As of this writing, 25 children are reported dead in India after eating lunch tainted with insecticide at a primary school in the eastern state of Bihar. More than two dozen others who ate the food are in hospitals.
The children complained as soon as they put the rice, dal (lentils) and watery potato curry in their mouths. They said that it tasted weird. The school official who listened to their complaints and tasted the food fell sick as well. The food was contaminated with organophosphorous, a poisonous trace element found in insecticides. The Times of India reports that two of the dead are children of the woman, a cook, who prepared the lunch.
If the food tasted odd, why did the children continue to eat it? That is the question that haunts me, even though I know the answer: because they were hungry; because it was probably the only meal they would get that day; because the lunch was what brought them to school; because they were used to eating poor quality food. I live here in India; I see the poverty in which many children live.
The midday meals scheme has been lauded as one of India’s successes. It began in the 1960s in my home state, Tamilnadu, and was institutionalized in the ’80s when it spread all over the country. <Read more.>