As news spread across India of the school lunch deaths in Bihar state, where 23 children ages 5 to 12 died after eating state-provided lunches tainted with insecticide, a number of Indians took to social media to focus their outrage on the national and state governments.
For many, the story seemed to confirm widely held criticisms of Indian government officials as overly focused on the country's middle-class and rich while under-serving the hundreds of millions of Indians living below the poverty line. The incident is, for them, about much more than just accidental food poisoning, but a reminder of the degree to which many Indians have been left behind in the country's development.
Here, from Global Voices' Chirag Sutar, are samples of what Sutar calls the heavily political reaction to the deaths on Indian social media.
Pictures from Chappra shows relatives using paper fan for children admitted in hospital . Is this ' Bihar model of development ' ?
— milind khandekar (@milindkhandekar) July 16, 2013
Chhapra, a city in Bihar state, is where the school that served the tainted meals is located.
Our politicians don't discriminate. 2G for the better-off or NREGA, Mid-day meal for the poorest, all are robbed with equal relish. #Chhapra
— Abhijit Majumder (@abhijitmajumder) July 16, 2013
"2G" is a reference to a recent scandal in which Indian politicians were found to be accepting bribes to allocate wireless broadband access to telecommunications firms at below-market prices. The NREGA is the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which has been marred by accusations of corruption.
School teachers serve mid day meal to children as if they are doing some big personal favour to them. #Chhapra
— Raghavendra Verma (@r_verma) July 16, 2013
The outrage against the state has in some cases even extended to teachers.
@milindkhandekar Chhapra is same as our first president Dr. Rajendra Prasad left half century back. Children are dying for education.
— Fazal Abbas (@fazlabas) July 16, 2013
This above comment is a little tough to parse, but he's arguing that Chhapra has not really developed in the last 50 years, during which time much of India has seen astounding economic growth.
Mid-day meals,at places r a scandal and un-hygienic. Teachers too r wasting time cooking!Why not serve fruits and nuts?
— Kiran Bedi (@thekiranbedi) July 17, 2013
The above tweet, whether or not you agree with his proposal, seems to capture the broader sense that the government, from top to bottom, has failed to adequately oversee the wider school lunch program, which has been running for decades. As Sutar writes, this is not the first time that India's school lunch program has made kids sick:
In a separate incident in Bihar's Madhubani district, 15 students fell ill after eating mid-day meals. In Gaya-Bihar, one student was killed after eating school lunch there. And in another separate incident in Dhule in the district of Maharashtra, 31 children were hospitalized after having their mid-day meals.
But, based on the social media response, many Indians seem to see the school lunch deaths as not just a problem with the meal program but with Indian governance more broadly, with the government's priorities and its competency. Whether or not this incident is directly connected to larger governance issues in India, it is adding further fuel to popular anger against the state and demands for change.