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Poisoned School Lunch Leaves Dozens of Kids Dead, Hospitalized in India

Locals are responding with protests demanding answers.
 
 
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Photo Credit: AFP

 
 
 
 

In the eastern state of Bihar, India, at least twenty students (21 or 22, depending on the news outlet) are dead and dozens more have been hospitalized after young children ate school lunch tainted with poison. Children, ages ranging from about four to twelve, ate the poisoned meals at school and quickly fell ill, clenching their bellies and complaining of pains. "My children had gone to school to study. They came back home crying, and said it hurts," one grieving father told NDTV. "I took them into my arms, but they kept crying, saying their stomach hurt very badly."

As the impoverished region grapples with the tragedy, protests have erupted in Saran and Chapra. Demonstrators, some of which have reportedly turned violent, are demanding answers from the government. The government-run school lunch program has a history of fraud and corruption, and sent more than 130 students to the hospital after having consumed E. Coli last year. In Bihar, 20 million people participate in the free lunch program, which -- covering 120 million children --  is the largest in the world. Free lunch is intended to not only help battle malnutrition among the millions battling soaring food prices while living in poverty in India, but also to encourage school attendance.

Unfortunately, as the AFP reported,  "[C]hildren often suffer from food poisoning due to poor hygiene in kitchens and occasionally sub-standard food." The New York Times quoted P. K. Shahi, minister of human resource development in Bihar, saying “It is a very daunting task to provide freshly cooked quality meals in 73,000 schools." Teachers, elders, and state officials are all involved in the free lunch programs, and Shahi told the NYT, “All these people look for easy money and there is very little scope of making money without compromising the quality and quantity,”adding “It is just not possible to taste meals in all the 73,000 schools before children eat the food.”

AFP and the New York Times have pointed to  insecticide -- paticularly phosphate -- in the vegetables as the poison that caused vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pains in students before many of them tragically passed. 

Kristen Gwynne is an associate editor and drug policy reporter at AlterNet.  Follow her on Twitter: @KristenGwynne

 
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