An eerie silence hangs over the environs at Gandaman, the village which hit national headlines, when tragedy hit its children who had consumed a poison laced mid day meal at the local school last year. 23 died. The hamlet has changed, but at the school ground, now standing forlorn, no classes are held. Its campus, which usually hosted election rallies, remains empty. No party has booked it this year and no 'leaders' will come.
Campaigning is at peak in Saran and Maharajganj constituencies. Polling is to take place on May 7. But the cacophony has not reached Gandaman this season, just 30 km off from Chapra town, but in Maharajganj constituency where Prabhunath Singh of the RJD islocked ina grim fight with Janaradan Prasad Sigriwal. 16th July , 2013 , turned this school ground into a graveyard. That stillness remains.
"The haunting memories of the tragedy' is still fresh in villagers mind. No politician has visited us, nor has a single meeting been held this time. It shows the insensitivity of our leaders," says, Akhilanand Mishra, whose five year old son, Ashish Mishra was among the first to die after spitting blood at the PHC.
Mishra's wife whose is yet to overcome the loss of their only son holds politicians in contempt, as does Vinod Mahto, who lost three of his children- Aarti, 7, Shanti 8 and Vikas 10 in the tragedy. Ask them, would they vote. The reply is in the affirmative-a firm one at that.
"We are not bagis ( renegades). We have faith in democracy and will vote, though with a heavy heart. But we will not spare those who snatched away our happiness".
Nine months after the incident, which has put a big question mark on Bihar's mid-day meal scheme, there is still palpable anger among villagers against the administration, though.
"Sarkar kyun is tarah ki yojana banati hai..jab koi dekh bhal nahin hota hai. (Why does the state formulate such schemes,when there is no monitoring)" asks Bali Mahto, whose son also died, with a tinge of anger.
"My son died because there was nobody to see how food is prepared," joins Mishra, who was the first to lodge an FIR against one teacher , Meena Devi and her husband, who allegedly supplied the groceries, and are now jail.
Not far off from the Dharamasati bazaar, the state government's apparent knee jerk reaction to develop the village as a model village- which as per folklore was seat of astrological science in 17th and 18 century and owes it's name to tantriks( occult practitioners) doing "ganana" or numerology –is glaringly visible.
A memorial for the deceased children, a spanking new anganwadi Kendra and a renovated community centre where the middle school was running earlier attracts newcomers . An irate parent had buried the body of a deceased child, Rahul in the middle of the school grounds while other dead were buried some distance away. A new high school is also coming up along with a PHC.
However, the villagers are seemingly unimpressed with the initiatives of the Nitish Kumar regime, saying, "Such face saving gesture cannot bring our children back'.
"Kya hoga eh sab karkey. Humare bache toh chale gaye," says, Raju Sah, whose five year old daughter Laxmi was among those who died from the effect of toxic organo phosphorous compound- traced in the FSL investigation from samples of the deadly food.
He is a broken man today, but points fingers at the sorry state of health system, especially PHCs, recalling how his daughter cried in pain on the fateful day at the PHC in Masrakh but doctors wasted precious time waiting for life saving drugs, which were not there.
"We hear, the government spends crores on health care. Where does it go? My child died " he asks, although he confided he would cast his vote but for the Saffron.
"No, we will not boycott the polls. Of course, we are unhappy that neither the RJD chief Lalu ji, chief minister Nitish Kumar or Sharad Yadav came to provide us some solace. If they can't be for us, we won't be there for them," he added.
The election on May 7 may see villagers, falling in Maharajganj constituency going to booths to cast their votes but it would take a long time before they start reposing faith in the administration. Their ire, is influencing others to vote against the state and add to the Saffron numbers, though.
Interestingly, despite the school being shifted and mid day meal scheme now heavily monitored, no children in any of the village in miles, take food at school. Such is the fear among parents.
Ask six year old Anup or seven year old Mantu –whose younger brother died – and they have a ready reply.
"Dar lagta hai, khaney mein. Tiffin le jatey hani.." says Chandan Kumar, a class 3 student.