With just Rs 3.86 allocated per day per child at government primary schools in Bihar, the khichdi served for the mid-day meal at Rajkiya Prathmik Vidyalaya in Araria’s Gokhlapur is a watery affair.
But on February 10, Kasheeda, a Class V student, made the mistake of asking for a second helping. The 12-year-old was allegedly hit, and when her father Mohammed Shagir protested, he too was allegedly kicked. Hours later, Shagir died.
According to Shagir’s wife Rukhsana Khatoon, her son escaped a similar fate six months ago. Chand Babu, a Class II student, wanted a little more khichdi too, and in return was allegedly thrown off the school’s roof, fracturing his right leg. He dreads going to school since.
Three teachers and a cook of the school now face a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and are absconding. The post-mortem report is awaited. The school is shut since the incident.
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Shagir, a daily wage earner, leaves behind five children between the ages of four and 12. The family, that doesn’t own any land, lives in a thatched hut on government land. Neighbours have been giving the family food since Shagir’s death.
Recounting what happened on February 12, Kasheeda says, “When I asked for khichdi a second time, school cook Sanjit hit me with a serving spoon with a long handle. I came back home crying and complained to abbu. My father immediately rushed to the school and told Sanjit, ‘Sab bachchon ko sarkari khana khane ka haq hai (All children are entitled to the government mid-day meal)’.”
According to her, a school teacher named Z N Ansari, also known as Mastan, rushed out shouting and threatening him, “Cheer denge (will tear you apart)”. “Hardev Ram (the school headmaster) also joined in, saying ‘maaro’. Mastan hit my father between his legs.”
Shagir, who was reportedly hit on the testicles, doubled over in pain, defecated in his clothes and fainted.
He was rushed to a local doctor, but didn’t recover.
Rukhsana says a neighbour immediately called police but no one turned up the whole day. The Narpatganj police only reached the spot at 1 am on the intervening night of February 10 and 11, and an FIR was registered on February 11 against four persons — the schoolteachers Mastan and Hardev Ram, cook Sanjit Paswan, and the husband of a schoolteacher, Sambhu Yadav, who was present at the spot at the time.
Police claim they came to know of the incident only on February 10 night. Says Narpatganj police station in-charge P K Praveen, “The incident is surely a fallout of the mid-day meal at school. We have recorded the victim’s family’s statement, and statements of 40-odd villagers. Mohammed Shagir had gone to the school and had a scuffle with teachers. Post-mortem alone will establish if he died because of being hit on his testicles.”
Narpatganj Block Education Officer Iftekhar Ahmed says, “We have been talking to villagers to reopen the school while police investigate the matter.”
Another school cook, Mehdooda, says she had seen Shagir at school that day, “but did not see any fight”. “I am not aware what happened to him later,” says Mehdooda.
School committee chairperson Mohammed Ali Sher, who says he was out of the village on the day of the incident, claims, “The school is often under pressure to offer mid-day meal to extra children.”
While Classes I to V at Rajkiya Prathmik Vidyalaya have around 300 students, villagers say poor parents often send siblings along too to have the mid-day meal.
Bihar government primary schools get Rs 3.86 per child for buying pulses and vegetables besides 100 gm rice each. From Classes VI onwards, the rice quantity goes up to 150 gm and the subdiary amount to Rs 5.78 each. Bihar has about 70,000 government primary and secondary schools serving mid-day meal to 2.5 crore children.
The scheme has been under scanner in Bihar since the 2013 Chhapra tragedy in which 23 children died after eating “poisonous food”.
Several villagers claim the whole controversy is linked to the coming panchayat polls, and that the teachers are being framed.
Rukhsana and Shagir moved to Muslim-dominated Gokhlapur and Araria, one of the poorest districts of Bihar, around 30 years ago from a distant village.
Pointing to a bamboo-and-grass fence around their hut that Shagir himself built just before the incident, Rukhsana says, “An influential group in the village is out to prove us wrong on the cause of my husband’s death… My husband was hale and hearty and died after being hit.”
She says the group is trying to use the fact that the case was registered a day later. “We were forced not to file a case last time but this time, we want justice. We are the ones who need mid-day meal the most,” Rukhsana says.
Vowing to support the family, her neighbour, Mohammed Izhar Alam, however, asks, “Can Kasheeda get justice at all? We have not heard anything from police so far.”