Image © New Indian Express

At least 23 children have died from eating school meals dished up via a free lunch program in eastern India yesterday, while dozens more remain very ill from the poisoning. The meal at the Bihar school consisted of rice, beans, potato curry and soy balls, and it was heavily contaminated with insecticides. After inspection, authorities have deemed cooking oil stored in containers that were formerly used for insecticides to be the cause.

Whether the tragic and senseless poisoning of innocent school children was purposeful or not remains to be seen. Dozens of children and some staff are still in the hospital, their fates unsure at the moment as doctors treat them for insecticide poisoning. According to Reuters, the school’s cook suspected something was wrong with the cooking oil, calling in the head mistress to show her the appearance and smell seemed odd. The head mistress insisted that the cook continue making the lunch, which resulted in a harrowing scene as children began vomiting after ingesting the tainted rice.

The free lunch program is an important effort toward nutrition in India, which began in 2001 and has been expanded to feed 120 million children each year throughout the country. The program has also boosted school attendance, while fighting against malnutrition.

Protests from affected families and neighbors broke out late Wednesday, as family members mourned the loss of their children. According to the latest reports from BBC India, 19 of the 23 parents have buried their children on the school grounds “to serve as a reminder that the children died due to state negligence.”

via NY Times