Four days after a case was filed against a UP journalist for filming students at a government school in Mirzapur eating rotis with salt as their midday meal, villagers have now come out in support of the reporter.
A video from the Siur primary school in Jamalpur block of Mirzapur shows young children sitting on the floor of the school corridor, eating rotis with salt under a flagship scheme of the central government. The video was shot on August 22 by Pawan Jaiswal, who works with a local Hindi daily, Jansandesh Times.
In the complaint to police, Block Education Officer of the area accused Mr Jaiswal and a representative of the local village head of conspiracy to defame the Uttar Pradesh government.
While the state government has said the first information report against the reporter will be examined, Anurag Patel, Mirzapur's top government official, on Tuesday said the reporter should have stuck to stills instead of making a video because he writes for a newspaper.
"You are a print media journalist, you could have taken photos. You could have printed it, but you did not do it. That is why we are accusing him of conspiracy," Mr Patel told reporters.
Villagers at Siur, however, have now come out in support of the journalist, saying they have raised the issue of midday meals at the primary school but their complaints were not heeded.
Rukmani Devi, the cook at the Mirzapur government school, which is at the centre of the controversy, says students were given roti and rice with salt on August 22."The reports are totally true. Mamata and me, my colleague, cooked and served rotis with salt. Why did Murari sir (school headmaster) not stop us? The reporter is not at fault at all. It is Murari sir's fault," she said.
"There was a lot of mismanagement in giving milk, bananas to the students," she added.
Bichni Devi, a villager, said: "We have been complaining about the mid-day meal for the longest time but no one listens. I complained to the school headmaster and he dismissed our concerns. We were told 'do what you want to do'." Two of her daughters study at the school.
"Our children told us rice and salt was given to them. Bananas were not given. Milk, when given, was diluted with water. For midday meals, the school has nothing - no oil. no potatoes, no onion. What should one do?" she asked.
The website of the Uttar Pradesh Mid Day Meal Authority - the overseeing body for these meals in the state - describes an elaborate menu that is supposed to be served to the children at the state-run primary schools. It includes pulses, rice, rotis and vegetables. Fruits and milk are included on certain days, according to the meal chart.
The support from the villagers comes after more than 100 journalists gathered at Mirzapur Collectorate office on Tuesday to condemn the police case against Pawan Jaiswal.
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