Headmistress Still Missing After Tragic School Lunch Poisoning

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
July 23 2013 12:59 PM

Police Are Still Searching for Headmistress Who Fled After Fatal School Lunch Poisoning

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An Indian schoolgirl recovering from food poisoning rests at the Patna Medical College and Hospital in Patna on July 20, 2013. Grieving parents attacked a headteacher's house in eastern India to protest the deaths of 23 pupils who ate a poisoned school lunch and the response by officials to the tragedy, police and witnesses said July 19

Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images

Here's an update on the terrible tainted school lunch story in India from last week: Officials have begun a manhunt for the school's headmistress, Meena Kumari, who reportedly fled the school with her husband as soon as the children began vomiting. The poisoned food, which killed 23 school children and poisoned 25 others, was given out as part of a free lunch campaign for poor families.

Officials have now determined that the food and oil used in the deadly lunch were laced with monocrotophos, a very toxic compound found in insecticide and used for agricultural purposes. And it seems that Kumari might be partly to blame, at least according to the cook who prepared what turned out the be the fatal meal. Here's CNN with the disturbing details:

The cook, Manju Devi, was hospitalized after eating the food she prepared, doctors said. Devi told police that the headmistress did not heed her warning that the mustard oil used to prepare lunch looked and smelled bad. Instead, the headmistress insisted she continue preparing the meal, officials said.
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Of course, if she did nothing wrong, Kumari still would have plenty of reason not to come forward: Most notably the anger and outrage on display by the town's residents, who torched police cars the day after the tragic incident and have made it clear they are eager for justice of some kind. The police have intensified their presence in the village and say they would be able to ensure Kumari's safety if she resurfaces, but such promises likely do little to allay her fears, regardless of her innocence or guilt.

Jennifer Lai is an associate editor at Slate.