A horrible story out of India: At least 22 children between the ages of 8 and 12 are dead after eating a free school lunch yesterday; more than two dozen others were hospitalized after eating the rice, soybean and potato curry, which is believed to have been tainted with insecticides, the Wall Street Journal reports. The state education minister specifically blames organo-phosphorus, the BBC reports, and he says investigators are looking into how it got in the food. One doctor treating the children thinks the vegetable oil the meal was cooked in, which the education secretary described as "foul-smelling," could have been contaminated.
The Mid-Day Meal Scheme, an effort to boost attendance, has had issues with poor hygiene and food poisoning in the past; it is the largest school lunch program in the world and feeds 120 million children. The incident took place at a government-run school in a village in the poor eastern state of Bihar. AFP reports that such schools are notorious for having poor kitchen hygiene. Sweltering heat probably didn't help. TV reports aired footage of sick children laid out on "wooden tables in a primitive state-run hospital." Parents have been protesting since the deaths, and the BBC warns that the toll could rise as other children are in critical condition. The school's headmistress fled in the wake of the deaths, though police note her absence "doesn't establish her involvement in the tragedy."