Three months after The Indian Express reported about a separate anganwadi for Dalit children in Gujarat’s Patan district, the state government has taken corrective steps.
Nine children from anganwadi No. 159, which had only Dalit children, have been shifted to No. 160, while 19 children from the Thakore, Patel and Rawal communities in No. 160 have now gone to No. 159.
The anganwadis house children between the ages of six months and six years.
Three years after the anganwadi No. 159 had been set up in Hajipur village, the Patidars and Brahmins had demanded a separate anganwadi and moved into the premises of the adjoining primary school, giving rise to the anganwadi No. 160.
“Things are good now, we are happy. We do not have any complaint against anyone,” said the mother of a four-year-old Dalit child, who is among the children shifted from anganwadi No. 159 to No. 160.
The grandmother of a three-year-old Dalit child, who has also been moved, nodded in agreement.
Following the November 5 report, government officials who inspected anganwadi No. 159 had noted in their observations that it was built under the state government’s Khaas Angbhoot Yojana — a Special Component Plan, now known as the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan — which was introduced for the welfare and development of Scheduled Castes. This, they said, explained why only Dalit children were admitted to this centre
The children were exchanged between anganwadis “on the request of villagers”, they had added.
But according to a top official of the Social Justice and Empowerment department — responsible for the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan — the Khaas Angbhoot Yojana did not mandate construction of anganwadi centres.
Later, it was found that anganwadi No. 159 was built under the Gokul Gram Yojana, and not the Khaas Angbhoot Yojana.
Following The Indian Express report, the National Human Rights Commission had sent a notice to the Gujarat government, taking suo motu cognisance of the report. It had said the report “raises a serious issue of violation of human rights of Dalits” and sought a reply within two weeks.
When contacted, NHRC joint registrar Anil Kumar Parashar said, “So far, there has been no response to the notice issued to the Gujarat government.”
When contacted, Additional Chief Secretary, Social Justice and Empowerment, M S Dagur, said, “Since this scheme (Khaas Angbhoot Yojana) involves individual-oriented benefits such as roads and bridges, irrigation, drinking water and health services, we cannot build schools or anganwadi centres under this scheme, since it would mean isolating them (the beneficiaries) from other castes.”
Asked if any school or anganwadi centre had been built in Gujarat under this scheme, Dagur said, “Not to my knowledge and under my term.”
However, Integrated Child Development Services Director Ranjeeth Kumar J, who was one of the inspecting officers who visited anganwadi No. 159 after The Indian Express report, said, “The anganwadi has been built under the Khaas Angbhoot Yojana, so villagers and workers were under the impression that it was only for Scheduled Caste children. That’s why there were only Scheduled Caste children in No. 159. There is nothing wrong in building an anganwadi under this scheme.”
It was after Ranjeeth’s visit on November 10 that children were shuffled between the two anganwadis.
District Child Protection Officer Patan K H Vaniya, an inspecting officer who visited the anganwadis in December, also said the reason for only Dalit children at anganwadi No. 159 was because anganwadi workers thought it was from the Khaas Angbhoot Yojana.
Documents accessed from the Patan’s taluka panchayat office on January 28, 2016 in turn, state that “the building of anganwadi No. 159 in Hajipur, taluka Patan, in 2000-2001 was constructed out of Gokul Gram Yojana. For this, a grant of Rs 87,056 was received against which expenditure of Rs 86,978 has been done”.