Indian Schoolchildren Now Refusing Lunch Out of Fear

After 47 Indian schoolchildren were hospitalized due to contamination of their free lunches Tuesday — 23 of whom have now died — authorities have begun investigating the incident.

Police are now searching for the principal, who fled the school shortly after the students started falling sick. The school's cooks, Manju Devi and Pano Devi, told The Associated Press that the principal controlled the food for the free daily lunch.

"The search is on to nab her. She will be the key to the investigation because she will be the one who can share details about the quality of food and the supplier," Sujit Kumar, superintendent of police in Saran district said. The principal is likely to know the details about the food because ingredients for the lunches were stored at the her house, and brought to the school each day due to lack of storage space at the school.

A hospital superintendent said Thursday that the post-mortem reports on the children who died confirmed that insecticide was either in the food or cooking oil. He said authorities are currently waiting for lab results to reveal more details about the chemicals.

Meanwhile, thousands of schoolchildren in poverty-stricken eastern India are now too frightened to continue eating the free meals, officials said Thursday. “Some of the students dumped the lunch in school dustbins and we are trying to convince everyone that the tragedy will not be repeated,” said Lakshmanan, director of the midday meal scheme in Bihar.

Many angry parents and villagers are not only warning their children not to eat the lunches — they are also reacting violently. On Thursday, dozens of men reportedly attacked one of the base kitchens of the Ekta Shakti Foundation, a non-governmental organization that supplies lunches to more than 1,200 schools in the Chhapra district of Patna. Protesting villagers set four police vehicles on fire, and police reinforcements had to be brought in to contain the protests.

Only 200,000 rupees ($3,370) has been offered in compensation to each family who's lost a child.