Bhola Yadav found an abandoned baby girl crying in a sugarcane field a little over two years ago and brought her home. He named her Priya and gave her a home with his wife and three older children. Priya, now two-and-a-half-years-old, is inseparable from her adoptive father, who is a driver with the Gorakhpur Nagar Nigam.
What may sound like a soppy Bollywood story to most of us in urban India is an everyday reality in poverty-stricken eastern Uttar Pradesh. “It happens all the time. Each week, we get reports of one or two newborns being abandoned by their families, but the good news is that many people are eager to adopt them and raise them as their own,” says Prof Radhey Mohan Misra, former Vice-Chancellor of the Gorakhpur University, who now runs the NGO Samarpan Santhsan for children’s rights and also works with the SOS Village in Varanasi.
Doctors at BRD Medical College confirm this. “When our staff is not fighting disease, they are doubling as foster parents. Even today we have an abandoned five-day-old baby girl in the maternity ward whose parents disappeared right after delivery. They even walked way with their medical records so we cannot trace them.
“ We are feeding her with donated milk from other nursing mothers after testing them for HIV,” says Dr KP Kushwaha, consultant paediatrician at BRD Medical College.
“Earlier, only illegitimate children were abandoned, but going by the fact that more girls are left behind than boys, I suspect people now see it as a convenient way to get rid of an unwanted girl child,” says Misra.
There have been cases of the hospital staff getting attached to the babies and adopting them. One of the staff nurses — Indira Srivastava —has adopted three of these children even though she has grown-up children of her own. “I just couldn’t bear to see them go after looking after them for so long,” she says.
Usually, the hospital keeps them for a few weeks before sending them away for adoption. “We once had a case of a parent coming back after three months to ask for his child. I told him, this is a hospital not a bank locker. Where were you when the child was crying herself to sleep?” says Kushwaha.
People like Bhola and Srivastava are not a rarity. “Just four months before I found my daughter in 2004, Guptaji, who runs the kinara (neighbourhood grocery) shop near my house, found a baby in a plastic bag and adopted her. I don’t regret my decision at all. Now my wife wants to adopt a second child,” says Bhola.
Given that abandoned children are not such a rarity, it appears she won’t have to wait long.