Gandaman Primary School
Patna, Sept. 16: Piping hot khichdi and chokha (mashed potatoes) — not a lavish lunch but the simple fare was meant to instil confidence among students and parents of the Gandaman school who had shunned the midday meal since the tragedy two months ago.
On July 16, as many as 23 children of Gandaman Primary School at Dharmasati-Gandaman village in Chhapra, around 100km northwest of Patna, had died after eating the midday meal served in the school. The food was found to have been laced with a toxic insecticide.
The institution was closed down and the students were shifted to the middle school in the same village.
For two months, the school did not prepare the midday lunch that is part of the world’s largest such scheme that attracts thousands of students from poor families to classrooms. Parents refused to send their children to school and those who did packed homemade food for their wards.
Today, the school prepared the meal for the first time since the tragedy.
Of the 103 students who attended school today, 57 ate the food.
“Since the tragedy hit the village, the midday meal was not being prepared in the school. The children were not ready to eat and their parents too were against it. Today, under instructions from district education officer Madhusudan Paswan, the meal was prepared. There was some resentment but we kept convincing the parents. The headmaster and I ate tasted the food first in the presence of the villagers. The students were then instructed to sit down and eat,” Rudra Narayan Ram, the block education officer of Masrakh, told The Telegraph.
On Saturday, The Telegraph had reported that the midday meal had not been prepared since the tragedy and that the students were not even drinking the water drawn by the school hand-pump.
“Once the cooking began around 12 noon, the news spread. Many villagers came rushing to the school. There were some who were opposed to the meal being prepared. But the majority of the villagers were quiet and they watched closely as the cooking progressed. Raj Kishore Sah, the head master of the school, and block education officer Ram ate the food under the eyes of the villagers. Once this was done, the students sat down after being instructed by their parents, and had the meal,” said Ajay Kumar Singh, a villager who helped the administration in instilling confidence among the locals.
However, 46 students refused to eat the meal. “It will take some more time to infuse confidence. But after two months, the meal is being prepared and this is a good sign,” said another villager.
Ram said the 46 students didn’t have the meal as they had brought lunch from home.
“They had brought food from their homes and hence they didn’t eat. They have promised that they will eat the meal cooked in school from tomorrow. Utmost care will be taken to prepare the food and meals will be served on the basis of the menu prescribed by the government. The administration will continue to talk to the villagers so that all doubts and fears are allayed,” Ram said.
Arjun Rai, husband of Meena Devi, principal of Gandaman Primary School, was produced before the court of chief judicial magistrate Anil Kumar Jha on Monday. The police sought an order to conduct a polygraph test on Rai, who has refused to subject himself to the examination.