|A busy Class IV period at Ursuline Middle School in Ratu, Ranchi, on Wednesday; (above) Geetanjali Khalkho, with son Emanuel, tries to come to terms with the loss of her five-year-old daughter, at their residence 8km from the cradle. Pictures by Hardeep Singh
Ranchi, July 27: It’s business as usual at Ursuline Middle School at Sundil, 15km from here, a day after a five-year-old girl fell into a cauldron of boiling dal and died.
With 1,170-odd children sitting for their classes, the smell of midday meal wafted from the tile-roofed kitchen on the residential campus of the Ursuline Sisters, 300m from school premises. Everything was chillingly normal.
But slowly, facts are emerging to make the human face of the tragedy clearer. Pushpanjali, the victim, had no official tag. She was neither the school’s student, nor was her mother the cook. When a victim is a nobody, the course of justice becomes slippery.
Geetanjali Khalkho, her mother, was not even present when her daughter accidentally toppled into the cauldron. School principal Mariam Gorethi today clarified she was a mental patient who had been raised by Ursuline Sisters after she was orphaned at 12.
She was married off to one Stanish Khalkho, a resident of Banhaura village, in 2002. He died of typhoid on May 12 this year. And her daughter died yesterday. She only has her two-year-old son Emanuel as succour.
“Geetanjali is not the school’s cook, as reported by several newspapers. She is mentally unsound and has been under treatment of Rinpas for a long time. We brought her up in the residential campus of Ursuline Sisters after her parents died. We got her married, but unfortunately her husband died this year. We again brought her here with her son Emanuel and daughter Pushpanjali. She did odd chores. When her daughter fell inside the dal, she had gone to a nearby field to work,” Gorethi told The Telegraph today.
She stressed it was an accident, which did not reflect on the school’s management. “A six-member team cooks the school’s midday meal — Usha Tirkey, Priyanka Gari, Leela Devi, Anisha Tirkey, Dharamdasi Tirkey and Cecelia Tirkey — so it’s difficult to say who cooked the dal as all worked together. Priyanka and Cecelia kept the cauldron of hot dal outside the kitchen for serving,” said the school principal.
In her FIR at Ratu police station, Gorethi stated Geetanjali died while playing near the kitchen and had come too close to the cauldron on the ground.
Geetanjali has been sent to her home at Van Toli in Banhaura, 8km from Sundil, for her daughter’s last rites.
When The Telegraph went there, Geetanjali was breast-feeding her son. When asked if she knew how her daughter died, she remained silent. Finally, she said: “I was at the field. I don’t know how she died.” Probed further, she did not speak and keep on looking at the sky. Her eyes were tearless.
A woman, who identified herself as Geetanjali’s sister-in-law, added: “She is not mentally fit. Don’t question her.”
Ratu OC Sanjay Prasad also did not show much interest. “It’s an accident. We have registered a case of unnatural death and ensured burial of the body after post-mortem at RIMS,” he said.
“Though the child’s death on school campus is a matter of concern, it is difficult for us to take action as primary investigations don’t suggest ill intention. It was an accident. There might be negligence but it is difficult to fix,” said SP (rural) Asim Vikrant Minz.
“It is a minority school aided by the state. The government has no role in its management. It’s difficult to take action in case of mismanagement,” primary education director D.K. Saxena said, washing his hands off the matter.