When an orphan isn’t an orphan

One of our girls is not really an orphan.  She was our first child, and we were lied to.  After that, we only took orphans directly from the government.  She is more like the girls in most "orphanages", namely children whose parents, usually the mother, can’t keep them, for a variety of reasons.  We learned pretty early that she was not an orphan, but on the other hand we rescued her from a situation that was not good at all.

Orphans and non-orphans are different.    This child does not want to be here.  She wants to be with her mother, but her mother did not want her.  We tried unsuccessfully to reach the mother so we could get papers for school.  And we couldn’t get any papers because she is not an orphan.  In India the father is the guardian, no matter what he has done to the mother, and in this case he was brutal in his treatment of the mother.  We have police filings on this now.  The mother has appeared, after more than a year.

I’m writing this in the midst of trying to figure out what we do.  I have many reasons for being unhappy with the mother, but she is a child too.  She was married at 14 in the village.  Her body is scarred from torture.  The daughter of a close relative in that village was burned to death.  Mother-in-law torture of women is common.  Our child’s mother does not want her daughter raised there.

I asked about the current dowry rate.  It is one bicycle, Rs.6000 (about $140), Brass plates, Finger ring for husband, gold bangle and earrings for the woman — what she brings to the marriage.  Often a father decides to sell a large tree for dowry.

A few days ago, at the first visit, our girl was crying, she wanted to go with her mother.  We think she is about 12-13 years.  One of the other girls said, "Why are you crying?  My mother is dead."  Another girl told her that in two months her mother would have to send her out to work as a servant, that she was better off here.  How do these kids mix?  Well, our non-orphan is an outsider, in part because she sets herself aside — and probably wishing at times she were an orphan.  But she has a self-confidence that comes with still having a mother — of not having ridden in a police van to one institution to another, not being locked up with no exit in sight — not that core sense of alone that our orphans have.  It is different.

What will we do now?  We have scheduled a meeting tomorrow with a local elected official.  If we get his endorsement we can legally keep her.  What do we do with the mother?  She is probably more comfortable with the other girls than with her daughter.  They crowd around her and she reaches out to them.  She is staying nearby tonight, and I’ve asked if she wanted to come and help us tomorrow, spend the day with us.  She does… we will see how it goes.  I feel we are in such unchartered waters here.  The "should" would be to send her away and limit visits.  I had offered to pay for schooling if she wanted to take the girl, but she said she cannot give her a good environment.  She must work all day.

I think about even hiring her.  Then I think I must be nuts, that I’m just looking for trouble.  But keeping staff is very hard.  And some people are so jealous of what the children are getting, everything from the good food to the education…

It’s ten pm, and I should go to sleep.  The children have been asleep since nine.  Tomorrow is a school holiday.  It’s a special puja day, with a ritual involving putting water on Shiva’s head… and the objective is to find a good husband.  It is practiced more by the less educated, and ALL our girls are excited to take part.  I was asked if I would allow it.  I said, "Of course, I have 13 husbands to find." 

So, these are the thoughts that rattle in my mind.  Tomorrow will unfold in its own way…. and I try to follow and steer at the same time.  Another haiku from the past:

   Pulling and yielding–

   Always playing tug-of war…

   The seas and the moon.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Laurie Wulf
    Mar 07, 2008 @ 06:47:37

    WOW…Michelle,what words can I actually type? I look forward to more of what happens w/ S.
    Thinking of you.Keep an eye out for mail…..
    Namaste, Laurie


  2. Ramita Ghosh
    Jun 24, 2009 @ 14:27:31

    Hi Michelle,I am overwhelmed with the work you have done,its been my dream to do something for children in my country esp girl children who are most vulnerable.Unfortunately I am immobilised at home now as I am expecting but can I help in any manner?


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March 2008
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