The police in southern India arrested three people on Saturday after at least 11 died of suspected food poisoning following a ceremony to celebrate the construction of a Hindu temple.
More than 130 sick people, including children, were recovering from poisoning in hospitals in Chamrajnagar District of Karnataka State, according to a police official. The area is 110 miles south of Bangalore, the state capital.
The official, Officer Musharraf, who uses one name, said that Hindu devotees had eaten contaminated cooked vegetables and rice on Friday. They started vomiting, complained of severe stomach pain and were taken to hospitals.
Officer Musharraf said eight of those hospitalized were in critical condition. He said those arrested were from the temple’s management, and that samples of the food had been sent for chemical analysis.
“They were giving us some offerings at the temple. It had a weird smell,” said Murege Swamy, who had attended the ceremony. “When we asked what that was, they told us it is because of leaves in the offering.”
“As soon as we ate that, me and my friends felt a sharp pain in our stomachs and started puking.”
Sangeeta, who also uses only one name, said she was lucky that she didn’t eat anything at the temple. “Only a few were O.K., but everyone else was vomiting immediately,” she said.
News reports in India said the suspected food poisoning was the result of pesticide contamination, but the police said it was too early to draw conclusions about the cause, according to Reuters.
“We have sent the organs of the dead people and the poisoned food to the forensic laboratory,” Geetha M.S., a senior police officer, told Reuters. “Only after receiving the report can we say what went wrong.”
Several crows and dogs were found dead after eating the food, the officer added.
This would not be the first case of food poisoning in India to kill multiple people. In 2013, 22 children died in a school in the eastern state of Bihar after eating food tainted with a pesticide that had been stored in a cooking oil container.