The Mid-Day Meal Scheme is a government-sponsored scheme meant to provide food to children in schools. This scheme was launched to check malnutrition & to encourage attendance in schools. In this interview, Community Correspondent Neeru Rathod describes how she & her community in Kanpur, Gujarat united to ensure 30 children in their village could avail of this scheme daily at the Primary School.
When Video Volunteers committed to launch their RTE campaign, Community Correspondent Neeru Rathod was already filming a video at Kanpur Primary School. When she told the school staff and guardians about this campaign, they unanimously agreed that the irregularities in the implementation of the Mid-Day Meal scheme at the school was something worth taking up. Bharat Bhai, the gentleman appointed to organize regular distribution of supplies for this scheme lived in another village. To avail of rations, the school cooks would have to go to his home to collect supplies. He rarely gave them spices, and doled out barely enough lentils and rice to make two or three square meals for the children in a month. Not only did he owe the cooks several months of their wages, but he also hadn’t paid local grocery store owners what he owed them, causing them to refuse to sell to the school.
“See, I know many government departments are caught in the chaos of corruption. And very often, we as citizens tend to let it slide because it either suits us or it doesn’t directly affect us. But here, this man was stealing from children. This is a state where our Chief Minister hasn’t lost any opportunity to proclaim how grand our state is, but reality is a very far cry from what he claims,” says Neeru.
“I called all the villagers together, and asked them all about the situation. They all agreed that it was a shameful situation and that I must take it up to administration.”
Neeru began with long discussions with the residents about the RTE Act and the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. Many didn’t know anything about these provisions in place for their children. They collectively agreed that their children deserved better.
“I interviewed a representative from each of the groups I met— there was school staff, the cooks, as well as the guardians. Then, I went to the Deputy Magistrate (DM) and informed him of this situation and showed him the video. His response was intriguing. He said I must have misunderstood the situation.”
Determined to follow this story through, Neeru returned to the village & told the residents. “The women all agreed to go with me to the DM’s office. I wrote an application for them, and they all signed it, and then we went back to the DM. He heard us all, saw the video, and then, agreed to investigate.”
Within a month, the investigator arrived and met with everyone in the village— the Village Head, the Education Committee, every single person. They wrote down what everyone said, and Bharat Bhai was soon dismissed. The children of Kanpara Primary School started getting full rations, including spices & vegetables!
“One important lesson I learnt while filming this video was strength in unity. Kanpara is a very small village with a little over 200 people. For years the children had suffered but no one had taken this issue up because no one wanted to be in the limelight in case things went wrong. Once I agreed to be the sacrificial goat, everyone rallied around me. (Laughs) It’s a win-win situation for me. You see I am never afraid to take up issues. I know my community will always be right there, with me.”
Interview compiled by Radhika.