There is an uncanny resemblance between the biblical story of Abraham, who was asked to sacrifice his infant as proof of his piety, and that of Aano Devi, an impoverished tribal woman from Jharkhand who sold her three-day-old for Rs 2,000 on Sunday.
An HT investigation revealed that the woman had traded her child to a businessman for buying two male goats, which — according to rules of the Birhor tribe — are required to be sacrificed by any family ‘blessed’ with a newborn to appease the forest gods. Of course, there was another reason for her taking the shocking step — she did not have enough to provide for her family since her husband’s death, and the newborn had come as an extra mouth to feed.
HT reported on Wednesday that Devi, a tribal woman in her mid-30s, had sold her child for a pittance to Kedar Sahu, a Chatra-based businessman, on July 10 — barely two days after he was born. The infant was retrieved from Sahu’s possession and returned to Devi after the Ramgarh administration received a tip-off from people in the neighbourhood.
Devi said she took the step to provide the infant with “a better life”. But that was just half the story.
Sources told HT that no sooner had Devi given birth to the infant that her fellow-villagers demanded two white male goats for a community meal. Failure to do so would result in the forest gods frowning upon her. The fear of being branded an ‘atheist’ forced Devi to sell the child, so she could buy the animals with the money received.
Sitting in her crumbling hut at Sabar Tola village in Mandu block, Devi explained the reasons that forced her to sell a child. “I had no option,” she lamented. “My husband died six months ago — leaving behind four children to look after. I sold datun (a twig used as a toothbrush) and ropes to make ends meet, but still managed just two square meals a day. The newborn was an additional burden.”
Devi was less than thrilled to be reunited with her child, considering that she now faces the daunting task of repaying the money Sahu gave her. She is open to the idea of giving the child away for adoption.
“Now that the child is returned, Sahu wants his money back. I have spent half of the amount on tonsuring the child’s hair,” she said.
Devi has other problems too. For one, there’s no escaping the sacrificial obligations she is required to fulfill. “Sooner or later, I will have to donate the goats. Otherwise,
I will be declared an outcast,” said Devi.
Block development officer Jail Kumar Ram said the administration would help Devi put her child up for adoption, if she was willing. “But, at the same time, we will provide her with all social welfare benefits needed to feed her children and secure their future,” he said.
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