23 Little Lives - India's Poisoned Children

2013, Society  -  26 min Leave a Comment
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The school lunch program in India started in 2005. India's Supreme Court decided that every child in every government primary school should receive a lunch. So every school day, 120 million Indian children receive a midday meal. And for children in Bihar, one of the poorest corners in India, it could be their only meal of the day.

This course of action partially addresses the problem of malnutrition and this plan has provided increased attendance and retention of kids in schools. It's a simple routine where teachers conduct a taste test, then lunch is served and the children start to eat.

In a society afflicted by caste bias, the lunch is a great equalizer. Children from all social classes eat together. They have some assortment (rice and vegetables) and they wait for the food with enthusiasm. It's the world's largest public food aid program that tries to fight famine and malnourishment. It should have been India's pride, but instead, oddly and instantly, killed 23 children.

On Wednesday, July 17 2013, ambulances were speeding through the streets, trying to get to the Patna Medical Centre Hospital. And soon, heart-wrenching images of severely ill children appeared around the world. By the time they'd got from their distant village for diagnosis and medical care it would be 12 hours since they ate their midday meal and became alarmingly sick.

This was one of the most terrifying experiences for the doctors because they were never involved in such a situation. Four of the children that they received were already dead. In the middle of these turbulent scenes, questions were being asked and answers were expected. Why was this school lunch lethal? How did it happen and who was to blame?

Something wrong has happened with the food. Is it a conspiracy, is it an accident? Adequate treatment was given to these children, but mystery encircles the incident. Rumor and conspiracy theories are proliferated on a daily basis.