School principal comes under fire in Indian school lunch deaths

July 18, 2013

The scattered belongings of children who consumed a free midday meal are seen in Dharma Sati village in the Saran district of Bihar state. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Investigators are still trying to determine what precisely happened at the school in India's Bihar state, where tainted school lunches killed 23 children and sickened many more.

But, as is so often the case with such tragedies, the politics are getting a few steps ahead of the forensics. Public attention is increasingly turning to the school's principal, a woman named Meena Kumari.

A local police chief said they were looking for Kumari and her husband but couldn't find either of them, according to CNN. Some Indian media have described the principal and her husband as "absconding."

It's important to note that, as many Indians have pointed out, this is the worst school lunch health incident but it is far from the first; the program seems to have flaws that extend well beyond this one school. Some are arguing that the real root of the problem goes to Indian governance itself. And investigators are still determining what actually happened in Bihar. So the scrutiny on Kumari does not necessarily mean that she is to blame, but, rightly or wrong, she is coming under growing public fire.

On Wednesday, Bihar state education minister P. K. Shahi said something unusual in a news conference on the school deaths. He seemed to suggest, without much evidence, that the poisoning was somehow political. Shahi is a member of the Janata Dal (United) political party, which is popular in Bihar; he says that Kumari's husband belongs to a rival party.

"A surprising fact has come before us and that is the school principal's husband is a member of a political party, and has a grocery shop," Shahi said in the news conference. "The principal, Meena Kumari used to buy food material for the school lunch from his shop. The cook told me that she felt a little doubtful because the color of the oil looked different when she began to cook. The children also complained to the cook that the taste of the vegetables was not right. The cook did not understand and ate it herself. The result is in front of everybody. The children and the cook fell sick immediately."

Shahi, hinting at a political conspiracy, also suggested that the incident might be part of a plot to destabilize the government – again, without much evidence.

Two cooks at the school, both of whom ate the meals and became sick, told the Associated Press that Kumari was in charge of determining what food would be served. Shahi has claimed that the cooks warned that the oil had been unsafe and were overruled by Kumari, but the cooks deny this.

Many Indians have been so angered by the deaths that they've taken to the streets in protest, as this video shows:

Continue reading 10 minutes left
Comments
Show Comments

world

worldviews

Most Read World