At least 23 students have died and another 25 were hospitalized after eating a poisoned school lunch at a primary school in the village of Chapra, a rural area of eastern India.
Authorities believes the free lunch provided by the school was poisoned with pesticides.
Police are searching for the school’s headmistress and her husband, who fled after the incident. The headmistress allegedly insisted that the cook prepare the meal of rice and lentils.
"In spite of the cook's complaint [over the smell of the cooking oil used for the food], the headmistress insisted on its use and the cook made the food. The children had also complained about the food to the cook," said PK Shahi, Bihar's education minister.
Children, ages five to 12, immediately fell ill after eating the meal Tuesday.
"We are trying hard to save the children admitted [here] but the condition of some of them remains critical," said Dr. Amarkant Jha Amar, superintendent of the Patna Medical College and Hospital, according to The Guardian.
Nineteen of the children who died have been buried on the school grounds. Their parents say they want that graves to serve as a reminder that the kids were victims of state negligence. More than 100 people have attended the funerals.
"People must not ever forget that our children died inside the school because of the government's negligence," Rangeela Prasad Yadav told the BBC. Yaday’s 11-year-old granddaughter Mamata was among the children who died.
Apparently the free school meal was created to stop hunger and boost attendance in schools. According to the Indian government, there are 1.2 million schools that serve it and 120 million kids who eat it. But the meal often suffers poor hygiene, and after Tuesday’s incident children are refusing to eat the free food.
"We have received complaints that children in some schools in four or five districts have refused to eat the midday meal. We are trying to resolve the issue," the director of the Mid-Day Meal in Bihar, Mr. Laxamanan, told the BBC.
Angry villagers in Chapra destroyed the school kitchen where the deadly meal was cooked. Hundreds of parents and other villagers protested Wednesday by setting four police vehicles on fire.