priti, 9 and her sister muskaan, 6, live with their father in bombay. their mother left the family three years ago. their father dev kumar khare from akaltara in chhattisgarh works as a security guard. priti used to go to school till the highway intervened between her slum and the school : she is now unable to cross the road over which trucks and cars race by. end of her schooling.
dev kumar is worried about keeping his daughters safe. he lives in a shed with 15 other security guards and he works the night shift, which means his daughters are by themselves. twice his older daughter was molested, twice he has been to the local police station to register a complaint, twice he was turned away without a complaint being registered. he has moved jobs four times in the past year.
he approached an orphanage about keeping his daughters there, but was told he would have to sign a form giving them up, so he refused. he did not know what else to do. a "madam" had approached him a month ago offering him money for his daughters.
he has a brother who works in a brick kiln in gujarat, and his mother is a daily wage labourer in chhattisgarh. both refused to take responsibility of two young girls.
i was horrified listening to his story. they were obviously destitute, and i wondered at his desperation and that of his family that scattered them throughout the country. they were traveling on the same train that i was coming by to bombay on tuesday. i gave him my phone number and asked him to contact me the next day after i had time to make enquiries about shelters for young children. he was not aware of such a facility.
sneha sadan has been working in bombay for the past 40 years, open to destitute children, and when contacted they immediately agreed to take in the girls. however, as per the government order in force for the past two years, any such child sheltered by any NGO has to have a court order committing the child to the institution. failure to do so can lead to the NGO losing its license.
the court sits three days a week, and devkumar, priti and muskaan stayed at sneha sadan on thursday night. on friday we took them to the children's court which operates from 2 to 5 pm. the officer in charge turned up at 4.15 pm, and we got our turn to present our case around 5 in the evening. the children by now were tired, hungry and restless.
she heard us out, then called in the father and scolded him for shirking his responsibility by wanting to leave the children for the state to bring up. when he told her about trying to lodge a police complaint, she said it was his fault he did not go back again and again till it was lodged.
the final conclusion was that since the place where he worked is outside the limits of her jurisdiction, we would have to apply to the child welfare officer of another circle. first a missing person complaint with the police there, who will wait 2 months to confirm that the mother actually is missing; then the children will be allotted to a home. meanwhile if we fear for their safety, they can be taken into police custody till a home is allotted. besides, we cannot choose which shelter we may want the girls to be in: that will be allotted by the court, and is usually a government run home. the girls will be enrolled in school, we were told, and even if the father moves back to chhattisgarh he cannot take his girls back as they will be studying here in marathi, and education is important!
all this was extremely discouraging and the process for finding a safe shelter for the girls seemed a long and daunting process, if not impossible.
we discussed alternatives with dev kumar last evening after returning from the children's court: wait till monday and try again in this court if there is another more sympathetic officer on duty, or try with the next circle officer, or elsewhere.
dev kumar opted to take the children back to chhattisgarh and try to get them into a hostel among the few that are run by NGOs (there are many ashram schools there which are residential schools, run both by government and NGOs). he will then come back to work in bombay, and visit them when he can. his relatives can keep in more regular contact with his daughters as well. he left yesterday morning, and called me today from his village.
we are now trying to contact various organizations we know in chhattisgarh to ask if they can take two little girls into their hostel where they can be safe, can study, and can be children once again.