Cook who lost 8 children from family fights for life

FP

Two houses adjacent to each other in Gandaman village were pictures in contrast after the midday meal tragedy in which 22 primary school children were killed.

While there was a ghostly silence at the house of the school principal, the house of school cook Manju Devi was filled with heart-rending wails.

Eight children belonging to Devi's family, including three of her own, were killed in the incident. Devi herself is battling for life in a Patna hospital as she too tasted the soyabean curry — blamed for the deaths — as her children complained it had a weird smell and insisted she taste it.

In fact, Devi's family believes she too has succumbed.

But Bihar DGP Abhayanand said she had recovered slightly and was able to speak.

Her inconsolable father-in-law Rangila Rai, who was muttering prayers, said he had lost his grandchildren in one stroke.

"What should I say? How can God be so unkind to us? We had sent them to school to study and not to return dead," said Rai, who sat at a distance from the wailing womenfolk, his tears gone dry.

Grieving mothers cursed the principal. "We will kill her if we catch her," said a sister-in-law of Devi.

Family members said it was Devi who would take all eight children, including her two boys and a girl, to school. "Although she ate last at school, she tasted the soya curry yesterday. She had also alerted the principal about the poor quality of the oil," said her neighbour Vinod.

Devi had got the job on compassionate grounds as she was a widow. Police said they are waiting for her to recover to record her statement.

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