23 Little Lives

23 Little Lives In July 120 million Indian children ate their free, government-provided lunch. Fifty five of them were left writhing in agony, some dying within hours. So what happened? It's a mystery that's consuming modern India.

On one terrible day in July, going to school in Gandaman cost 23 children, all younger than 10-years-old, their lives. They died after eating their school lunch, a meal provided under a nationwide government program. "I feel I shouldn't have sent them to school that day. They would still be alive", Chanda Devi, the mother of two of the deceased children says sadly. Investigators quickly discovered that the food was tainted with a cheap and readily available pesticide. Was that a result of gross negligence or was it - as some locals believe - a deliberate, calculated act? "That day [the principal] used a stick and forced all the children to have the food", Ranjeet, the brother of one dead boy, says. The school principal is now facing charges of murder and conspiracy - but is she actually culpable or a convenient scapegoat? The chemical is highly toxic and used on crops throughout the region, but India's chemical king, Rajju Shroff, says he sees no problem in using a product considered gravely hazardous by the WHO and banned in many countries. "If you prove that monocrotophos was in the food, I'll close down my factory."

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