Mumbai: With a number of schools in the city continue refusing to let dabbawalas bring tiffin boxes for their students citing security reasons, the dabbawalas have approached the state government to intervene in the issue.
With schools in the city about to open after summer vacations, the Mumbai Dabewala Association (MDA), one of the organisations representing the city's iconic tiffin carriers, wrote a letter to the Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and the School Education Minister Deepak Kesarkar, demanding that they be allowed to serve the schoolchildren. They complained that the ban on their entry into schools had an adverse impact on their business and has brought disrepute to their work.
Since 2019, several schools in the city, especially those in south Mumbai and the western suburbs, have put a ban on dabbawalas carrying home-cooked food from children's homes to schools, as they believe that it was a safety hazard. While some schools have resumed their services, many of them still refuse to let them in. Dabbawalas estimate that the cooperative lost around 10,000 customers due to this restriction.
The dabbawalas have alleged that the schools are looking to make a profit by denying home food to students and forcing them to eat at their canteens. "It's all but a business for them. From uniforms to notebooks, they make parents purchase everything from them at a higher cost. We bring home-cooked meal to children, which is healthier than the canteen food," said Subhash Talekar, DBA President.
However, the schools remain firm in their stand. "We have our own healthy kitchens... All students avail of freshly cooked food of daal, chawal and bhaji. We don't give chocolates, biscuits, wafers and cold drinks," said Brian Seymour, Principal, GD Somani College Cuffe Parade, adding, "Who has the time to administer a man [to distribute dabbas] in such difficult times, such dangerous times. It's so difficult. You never know en route from their house, or their brother's house, what happens. You are not there. We deal with babies, children, innocence, soft."
The dabbawalas have taken umbrage to being treated as a security threat. "How did we suddenly become a security threat when we have been delivering dabbas in the city for the last 130 years?" said Talekar.