She Wasn’t an Orphan

I faced a hard decision.  The child we brought home from CWC on 24 September is not an orphan.  She has a mother, sisters, aunts, uncles,  and cousins.  As I had guessed, she was part of a community of beggars, thieves, and goondas.  The woman who brought her in was some sort of boss.  All of this has unfolded over the last several weeks.  The woman who had brought her to CWC called us almost daily, showed up unannounced, and the child mostly did not want to see her.  Over the next few weeks we learned that the child’s mother lived right next door to that woman, with her younger sister, and that “L”, our girl would take care of her mother in the day (maybe).  The mother was said to be mad, but L told us this was just so people would give her money.  L missed all of them, and missed the freedom of her life.  At the same time she also loved being here, enjoyed the other girls, and started to learn the alphabet.

So, what’s the problem?  First of all, I’ve been at this work for 12 years and I have a good idea of who I can help and who I cannot help.  I cannot help this child.   I can feed her, but I cannot change the direction of her life.  Ultimately she would not stay and ultimately the family/community would not leave her here.  As long as she wants to go home, she will not tolerate any of the discipline, self discipline, and work of being part of our life, family, home.  She will always be different.  I’ve seen it too often.  She has a place to go, not a great place, but she has family, people of her life, who she wants to be with.  She will never feel, “Amar barrie Shishur Sevay.” or “My home is Shishur Sevay.”

Second, I left the US, sold my home and took my savings to come here and do this work.  I want to care for orphans, the one’s who do not have what this child has.  The girls at Shishur Sevay are without choice.  The one girl who has a family still wants to join them.  She probably will when she is 18 in seven months.  India has a horrible problem of beggar children.  There even are laws against it, but they are ignored.  It’s a problem I cannot begin to address because it’s fueled by organized crime, police, politicians, the people who get paid off to do nothing.  It’s simply not what I sold my house for.

Third, my commitment to the girls here is really lifetime.  That’s what my money is for.  I stay here, miss my family in the US, including my grandchild, because I care for children who would not be OK without me.   I’m not willing to make that sacrifice for a child with alternatives.   My daughter and son-in-law in the US feel a commitment to our girls, but this one is not an orphan and does not belong here.

Fourth, it is not OK to have a home of orphans, children who unfortunately carry the “shame” of  that label, to have a child who is automatically “above” that label.  Whatever WE may think of L’s community, she is accepted there.  Our Shishur Sevay girls have NO PLACE they are accepted.  Our girl who will return to her family when she is 18 wants to be where she IS ACCEPTED.    Before taking L back, the girls and I talked, because for them also it was hard to have her leave.  But our girl who is almost 18 was clearest, ‘Mummy, she will be like me.  She will want to stay with her family.”

So we went, Gibi, Purba, Maggie, “L”, and me.  I had prepared a letter for CWC stating much of what I’ve written above.  I also had the original CWC Order giving her to us, which described her as an orphan.   I brought the government form for signing a child out of care.  We arrived to be met by an angry group of her relatives, fighting with each other and accusing us of keeping her in a bad place.  Gibi threatened to call the police for fraud.  I missed a lot of it as I took the child inside and Purba made sure we got ourselves on the appointment list.  Among the group were the woman who signed her in, the woman who said she was the child’s mother, the younger sister, a woman who said she was the community representative of some sort, and a couple of others.  They were there to reclaim their child.  They were angry with the woman who had “relinquished” her, and now said she was actually the grandmother and the woman said to be mad was her daughter.

I had prepared myself for this CWC meeting differently.  Bringing this child back was difficult.  I had to do this for the security of Shishur Sevay, and the protection of the other girls.  I took out my business card, kept it in front of me as a reminder, and tried to stay in the mode of being the lawyer for Shishur Sevay.  Shishur Sevay became my client.   The CWC woman whom I’ve known now for years, was very astute with these people and ended up saying she had no idea who was telling the truth, but since no one could prove they were even a relative, she couldn’t return the child to them.  She turned to me and said I’d have to keep her for now.  I said very calmly, “No, I don’t have to keep her.  This “Order” you wrote says she is an orphan and she is not.  This is your failure to find out.”  She agreed I was right.  Sitting at the long table was also someone from  CINI (Children In Need Institute), which is the largest organization working with these children.  The official said that CINI would take her.  This is actually very good because they will investigate and they will keep her in a shelter if they decide not to return her to those people.  They have staff, social workers, project and program directors, informants, investigators, and connections to high places.   A social worker came into the CWC meeting room and took “L”  back to the waiting area where she joined about 20 other children sitting on mats, also waiting to go to CINI.  “L” was tearful and another girl moved closer to comfort her.

Hundreds, thousands of children pass through this way.   That’s really where the label “SHAME” belongs.

Today I did what I had to for, Shishur Sevay.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sudipendu Dutta
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 15:42:11

    This was a great learning experience for all of us…

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    Reply

  2. Arun Debnath
    Nov 10, 2012 @ 23:15:18

    As an Indian I don’t feel angry or ashamed any more [I’m immuned to it and feel part of it] about India’s mad-made curse – CORRUPTION. It affects each and every individuals at every level of the society – including that fake mother. Don’t blame her, she is only a bit part player but what’s the difference between her and Prime Minister! PM may be a Sandhu but if he is as good as his staff and colleagues without their fuelling the fire of corruption the corruption will die down.

    I feel ashamed though that an American is fighting against our corruption and giving life to those orphan children while we can only TALK about beating our curse. Some times I ask myself, what is the difference between Dr Michelle Harrison and [say] Ramakrishna, Mother Teresa of Kolkata [other than the Vatican support] or Maa Durga. The answer is the former two are not in this world and the later never lived in this world.

    I like your writing prowess.

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  3. Dr. Michelle Harrison
    Nov 11, 2012 @ 16:26:12

    Thank you as usual Arun. India has no safety net for the poor. I don’t “blame” that woman any more than anyone else. Clearly she was trying to get help, and ultimately she may have achieved that. I don’t know what I’d do if I were Indian. My rage would be so great, and I would feel helpless at changing anything. In an odd way it’s easier to come as a foreigner, take a little plot of land 2160 square feet, and do something within these boundaries. In truth though, to me it makes no difference where I do my work as we are all related by our human origins and boundary-less spirits. I look forward to your next visit. And think of it this way: Look what India has allowed me to do!!!!!

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