Place: the grounds of the Kothale Budurk ZP Primary School in Taluka Ghansawangi of Jalna District. Pairs of girls and boys in school uniform are busy around open fires scattered across the grounds. A boy is rolling out puris, while another puts a kadai on the fire. A girl seasons the dal, while others chop onions and other vegetables, and yet others make laddoos. The ‘Meena-Raju Manch cookery competition’ is on! The contest is unique because only boy-and-girl pairs may participate. In this annual event, the pair must work together to cook a dish of their choosing within 45 minutes. They are also judged by the quality of the presentation.
Raju Sawant, a teacher in this school, has been organising the competition for the last three years. Sawant ‘Sir’ is also a sugamkarta or coordinator of the school’s Meena-Raju Manch. Maharashtra’s Education Department runs this programme with the aim of creating awareness of gender issues among students. “I always felt that gender equality should not remain a theoretical concept but that children should have an opportunity to practice it in their daily lives. Cooking is an activity that has traditionally been considered the woman’s responsibility. But I think that if every one of us feels hunger, then each of us should also be capable of basic cooking. It should not remain the sole domain of women. I have always advocated that housework should not be considered the woman’s job, but that the men of the family should also do their share of it,” says Raju Sawant.
He adds, “While talking with the boys I would always try to bring home this point but I was never sure whether they practiced it at home. Around that time, a new TV show called ‘Masterchef India’ was launched. Many men and women participated in this contest and they won prizes worth crores of rupees and achieved nationwide fame. I believe that this show has played a major role in changing the perspective of viewers on cooking and cooks. But for me, it triggered a new thought–‘What if a similar contest were held in school?’ I thought that if boys too were encouraged to participate in this contest, it would take us further towards our goal of gender parity.”
In 2012, Raju Sawant realised his idea by organising such a contest in the Ghonsi Budruk Primary School in Ghansangvi Taluka, where he then taught. After he made the announcement, both the girls as well as boys were very excited, but he faced some difficulties in forming girl-boy teams as required. Some parents met Sawant ‘Sir’ and requested him to hold the contest with same-gender pairs of players.
Raju explained to the parents (and students too), “It is only when men and women shoulder responsibilities together that a community functions well. Only when they work together does a country progress. It is important that both participate in an important activity like cooking. That is why we have made it a requirement.” Some agreed with him, while many did not. As a result, in that first year only seven pairs took part in the competition.
But over the years, the number of students entering the competition has kept increasing. In 2014, Sawant ‘Sir’ joined the Kothala Budruk school, where he introduced the competition and in 2016, seventeen pairs participated in this competition.
The students enjoy taking part in this competition. Participation in the event has also helped the girls and boys to befriend each other. The students try out dishes like bhel, parathas, idli-sambhar, and so on which are new to them. They cook on open fires in the school grounds, under the supervision of their teachers. They of course take necessary precautions like having buckets full of water in readiness and a first aid kit at hand. Once they have made their dishes within the stipulated time, participants arrange them on the allocated table for the examiners, who taste each dish and announce three winners.
After the competition, students and teachers sit together and enjoy all the food that has been prepared. Each year on 26 January, the winners are presented with certificates and useful gifts. “We have noticed several good things emerging from this competition. The boys have started taking an interest in cooking. Students who had never even entered the kitchen are cooking new dishes. The most important positive change is that the boys have started helping their mothers and sisters in daily housework. This makes them independent and in later life, these students won’t have to depend on anyone else to cook and clean for them. This is how we are trying to contribute to the aim of gender equity that underlies the Meena-Raju Manch programme,” says Raju Sawant with pride.
Kothale Budruk school runs several excellent programmes. The Meena-Raju Manch started a bank in the school. All the banking activities are carried out by Std V-Std VIII students. The idea is to introduce the students to the banking system and encourage them to save. Last year, the school began sending ‘rakhis’ to soldiers guarding the country’s borders–1000 ‘rakhis’ were sent.
According to the teachers, the students have become more enthusiastic than earlier. They look forward to participating in such programmes and are less inclined to miss school as an outcome. Raju Sawant’s work has shown that if such novel experimens can take root in remote places like Kothale Budruk and Ghonsi Budruk, there is plenty of scope for such initiatives everywhere.
Blog: Pralhad Solate, Subject Expert, District Institute of Education and Training, Jalna
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team