Deadly Lunch Traced to India School's Headmistress

Husband ran grocery store that sold tainted cooking oil

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 18, 2013 7:16 AM CDT

(Newser) – The headmistress of the Indian school where 23 students died after eating a contaminated school lunch Tuesday may be to blame, say police, who are seeking the unnamed woman and her husband, who have since fled. Bihar's education minister says the headmistress's husband ran the grocery store where the meal's cooking oil, now believed to be tainted by pesticides, was bought, reports the BBC. The headmistress reportedly gave the oil her approval, calling it "homemade and safe to use." But the Guardian reports that potatoes were found sitting next to pesticides in her home, which it sees as an indication that "negligence and ignorance rather than corruption" may be to blame.

Bihar's education minister told CNN the cook questioned the quality of the oil, "but the headmistress rebuked her, and chastised the children, and forced them to continue the meal." The cook, however, denied those claims to CNN today, as parents and villagers continued to bury the dead—three inside the school campus and 16 others nearby. "People must not ever forget that our children died inside the school because of the government's negligence," a grandmother of one of the dead told the BBC. (And then there's this awful line from the Guardian: "Angry parents disinterred the hastily buried bodies of some of the victims and displayed them outside the school in protest.") Some students are refusing the midday meal, which was first introduced to help boost school attendance. The cook and 24 children remain hospitalized.

An Indian woman sits beside a child who fell sick after eating a free school lunch, at a hospital in Patna, India, Thursday, July 18, 2013.
An Indian woman sits beside a child who fell sick after eating a free school lunch, at a hospital in Patna, India, Thursday, July 18, 2013.   (AP Photo/ Aftab Alam Siddiqui)
An Indian cook distributes free school lunches to children at a government run school in Patna, India, Wednesday, July 17, 2013.
An Indian cook distributes free school lunches to children at a government run school in Patna, India, Wednesday, July 17, 2013.   (AP Photo/ Aftab Alam Siddiqui)
An Indian man cries while carrying the body of his daughter who died after eating a free school lunch at a hospital in Patna, India, Wednesday, July 17, 2013.
An Indian man cries while carrying the body of his daughter who died after eating a free school lunch at a hospital in Patna, India, Wednesday, July 17, 2013.   (AP Photo)
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