Headmistress, Husband Charged With Murder In Lunch Poisoning That Killed 23 Children

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 22 2013 2:22 PM

Headmistress, Husband Charged With Murder In Lunch Poisoning That Killed 23 Children

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Twenty-three children died in India's Bihar state this summer after eating a free lunch containing poisonous chemicals at an Indian primary school

Photo by Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images

An update on a tragic story we flagged this summer, via the Guardian:

A school headteacher and her husband have been charged with murder after 23 children died from eating pesticide-contaminated lunches in July at the school in eastern India, police said on Tuesday. ...
They were arrested and could face the death penalty if convicted. Investigating police officer Raj Kaushal said the headteacher's husband, politician Arjun Rai, stored pesticide at the school that was for use at his farm. The charge sheet filed in a court in Bihar state on Sunday said the chef cooked with it by mistake. Both denied the charges and told police there was no deliberate act on their part.

Devi (who is also known as Meena Kumari) allegedly fled the school with her husband as soon as the children began vomiting. She was arrested eight days later, while Rai was taken into custody later. The school cook who was preparing the meal has previously said that she noticed the oil had a strange color and a funny smell, but that Devi told her to serve the food anyway. The cook eventually fell ill after tasting the food. The police say that the children also complained about the smell and taste of the food, but were forced to eat it nonetheless, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Local officials say that the court will examine the 346-page charge sheet for the next two or three days, with the trial likely to kick off at the end of the week. Both face the death penalty if convicted of the murders, although under Indian law the jury can consider lesser charges.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.