Bihar Mid-day Meal Tragedy: 'I don't trust this school food or water, but my father can’t afford another one'
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Neha Kumari (10) sits on a plastic mat like the other students at Gandaman Middle School. As a cold wind blows in through the open windows, she tightens the scarf around her head. Among the 30-odd students of Class III and IV who share the 20 ft by 20 ft room in the school, it's easy to miss the slight Neha. However, the five teachers including the headmaster remember one thing about the 10-year-old distinctly. They have rarely seen her smiling since July 16, when her elder brother, Roshan (11), a Class IV student, became one of the 23 students of Gandaman Primary School to die after having the school mid-day meal.
Neha, who also ate the rice and soyabean curry that day, had to be hospitalised and remained there with 23 other village children for about a month. She still complains of cough and intermittent fever. Though she has no complications because of poisoning any more, her father Baliram Mishra continuously worries for his daughter.
The owner of a small provision store at the Dharmasati market of the village, Mishra cannot afford treatment in a private hospital for her. And the government doctors who were told to monitor follow-up treatment of the mid-day meal tragedy survivors last came on October 22. At least five more of those children continue to suffer from weakness, cough and fever.
The only concession Mishra has made since the tragedy —and it's hardly a concession he admits — is that Neha doesn't eat at the school any more. Nor do the other survivors of the July 16 tragedy. Mid-day meals resumed two months after the incident, including soyabean that is part of the menu, but the 24 do not even drink water from the handpumps. When it's time for the tiffin break, they go home. At the Middle School, into which Gandaman Primary School was merged, the containers for oil that the government was meant to provide — oil kept in former pesticide containers is believed to have caused the deaths — are still missing, but the other facilities are better.