| Two schoolchildren who collapsed at Green Park, Kanpur, on Sunday. Telegraph picture
Lucknow, Oct. 2: By the time the VIPs arrived, the children were falling like ninepins.
Fifty-five schoolchildren dropped unconscious in the middle of Kanpur’s Green Park stadium today, after a three-hour wait under a blazing sun for Amar Singh and Jaya Prada, without whom the Gandhi Jayanti function wouldn’t start.
The children had begun trooping in since 8 am, many of them on an empty stomach, their parents said. By 9 am, some 10,000 were arraigned in rows on the turf.
At 9.30, the scheduled kick-off, they learnt the VIP guests would be late.
At 10, the “poor dears” were told they must suffer the suffocating heat a little longer: the Samajwadi Party general secretary and the actor-turned-MP had been held up.
At 10.30, class VII student Rupak Sen asked a volunteer for water, but the man made vague promises and disappeared.
At 11, class V student Esha Srivastava asked her friend for her water bottle but it was already empty. The volunteers of the state education department, organiser of the function, would not let the children leave their lines and go inside the stadium.
At 11.30, Esha “felt like vomiting”.
It was at 12, moments after the big two had finally arrived and the children were told they could now get into their song-and-dance act, that the effort became too much for them.
As one dropped to the ground after another, the rest panicked and began to dash out of the stadium, causing a mild stampede and several injuries.
At the cramped Kanpur divisional hospital, where many of the young patients were forced to share beds, doctors said 22 were critical from severe dehydration.
“It’s criminal. Our children went through a harrowing torture. Let alone food, the organisers hadn’t even arranged for water,” fumed Sanjay Tripathi, father of a class VII student of Kanpur Central School.
Rupak, student of St Joseph’s School, said he had folded newspapers into sunshades for his friends but it didn’t help.
“We were sweating a lot. There was no water anywhere,” he said.
“I called a volunteer and he left after promising help. He never returned. I don’t remember how long I waited before I passed out and woke up on a hospital bed.”
District magistrate Deepak Kumar said, “No one could have anticipated this. The organisers are human, too; they are bound to make mistakes.” He has ordered a probe.
After Amar Singh and Jaya Prada came to know about the children, they rushed to the hospital and, with people watching, asked the doctors to “ensure proper treatment”.
“We had other programmes to attend and got delayed,” Singh explained.
“Whatever has happened is sad but we are taking full medical care of the children.”
In August, Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik had banned the practice of making children stand for hours as dignitaries take their time arriving at function venues.
“It’s quite painful to see little children lined up to receive VIPs. This practice is a torture for them and must be brought to an end immediately,” Patnaik had told reporters.