Mumbai Dabbawallahs are barred from schools in the city

Published: May 21, 2019, 13:08 IST | mid-day online correspondent

Approximately 50% of all schools across Mumbai have stopped dabbawallahs' entry in their premises

Mumbai Dabbawallahs are barred from schools in the city
Representational image

Many schools in Mumbai, particularly in south Mumbai, have barred dabbawallahs from delivering tiffin to students. They see the tiffin carriers as a security threat and the parents fear that their child's diet may be "contaminated" by sharing a tiffin that does not suit their religious ideology or taste.

According to the Times of India, Raghunath Medge of Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers, the main union of tiffin carriers, stated, "Approximately 50% of all schools across the city, mainly convents, have stopped dabbawallahs' entry. At one time, we were supplying one lakh tiffin to schools. That number has now dropped to 20,000." While the supply has been dropping over a period of three years, consignments have drastically fallen low this summer, causing resentment among the dabbawallah community and prompting Subhash Talekar of the Mumbai Dabbawallahs' Association to issue a press note.

"On the one hand, schools are banning junk food while on the other, discouraging children from eating healthy, home-cooked meals. They are forcing students to buy food from the school canteen just as they once forced them to buy books, shoes and uniforms from the school or from retailers appointed by the school," Talekar said.

"Contractors are in league with school principals to share profits with them," each said. Talekar despatched a list of schools that includes GD Somani in Colaba, Bengali School, Queen Mary at Grant Road, Fountain and New Era at Gowalia Tank that closed down last year. However, Fr Anthony Fernandes of St Teresa's School, Girgaum, said convents had curtailed timings to five hours in the morning and students were back home in time for lunch. Brian Seymour, principal of GD Somani school denied this allegation.

"We have never encouraged tiffin services in schools from the very start for the right reasons. No one knows what can happen to the food while it is en route. Plus, restricting tiffin services ensures fewer people inside the premises which is also an advantage in terms of security. Parents are also in favour of this decision. We do have a canteen but it is not a compulsion for students to buy food from the canteen. They are allowed to bring their own tiffin boxes," he said.

Ateet and Asha Vengurlekar, residents of Lamington Road have a son studying at St Xavier's Boys Academy, Churchgate, and a little daughter who goes to Queen Mary, Grant Road. Dabbawallas are debarred from both. Asha, a member of the parent-teacher association (PTA) at Boys Academy, says, "Nowadays given the security situation, it is understandable how schools do not wish to allow dabbawallahs inside. For one, they do not carry identification. Secondly, Queen Mary is an all-girls' school."

Ateet highlighted another problem when it comes to the dabbawallah service which is most schools like Queen Mary has majorityMarwari and Jain students. Small children tend to share tiffin, which could create problems since each community has different food habits. Some avoid meat while others avoid onion and garlic. 

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Many schools in Mumbai, particularly in south Mumbai, have barred dabbawallahs from delivering tiffin to students. They see the tiffin carriers as a security threat and the parents fear that their child's diet may be "contaminated" by sharing a tiffin that does not suit their religious ideology or taste.

According to the Times of India, Raghunath Medge of Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers, the main union of tiffin carriers, stated, "Approximately 50% of all schools across the city, mainly convents, have stopped dabbawallahs' entry. At one time, we were supplying one lakh tiffin to schools. That number has now dropped to 20,000." While the supply has been dropping over a period of three years, consignments have drastically fallen low this summer, causing resentment among the dabbawallah community and prompting Subhash Talekar of the Mumbai Dabbawallahs' Association to issue a press note.

"On the one hand, schools are banning junk food while on the other, discouraging children from eating healthy, home-cooked meals. They are forcing students to buy food from the school canteen just as they once forced them to buy books, shoes and uniforms from the school or from retailers appointed by the school," Talekar said.

"Contractors are in league with school principals to share profits with them," each said. Talekar despatched a list of schools that includes GD Somani in Colaba, Bengali School, Queen Mary at Grant Road, Fountain and New Era at Gowalia Tank that closed down last year. However, Fr Anthony Fernandes of St Teresa's School, Girgaum, said convents had curtailed timings to five hours in the morning and students were back home in time for lunch. Brian Seymour, principal of GD Somani school denied this allegation.

"We have never encouraged tiffin services in schools from the very start for the right reasons. No one knows what can happen to the food while it is en route. Plus, restricting tiffin services ensures fewer people inside the premises which is also an advantage in terms of security. Parents are also in the favour of this decision. We do have a canteen but it is not a compulsion for students to buy food from the canteen. They are allowed to bring their own tiffin boxes," he said.

Ateet and Asha Vengurlekar, residents of Lamington Road have a son studying at St Xaviers' Boys Academy, Churchgate, and a little daughter who goes to Queen Mary, Grant Road. Dabbawallas are debarred from both. Asha, a member of the parent-teacher association (PTA) at Boys Academy, says, "Nowadays given the security situation, it is understandable how schools do not wish to allow dabbawallahs inside. For one, they do not carry identification. Secondly, Queen Mary is an all-girls' school."

Ateet highlighted another problem when it comes to the dabbawallah service which is most schools like Queen Mary has majorityMarwari and Jain students. Small children tend to share tiffin, which could create problems since each community has different food habits. Some avoid meat while others avoid onion and garlic. 

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