Shailaja Menon (30) can never forget the day in March when her daughter Trisha, then seven months old, called her “amma” for the first time.
It had been just two days since she and her husband Nandkumar (36) had brought Trisha home from Malad’s Bal Vikas orphanage.
“I was on top of the world,” said Shailaja, adding that Trisha now calls them amma and acha (father in Malyalam).
The Goregaon-based couple had been informed that Trisha had undergone surgery for inguinal hernia (a protrusion of the small intestine in the groin). But that didn’t stop them from adopting her.
“Even our own biological child could have had a health problem. We did not care,” said Shailaja.
Malathy and Sanjay Iyengar agree. The Chembur-based couple adopted 13-month-old Nandini in November 2008 even though she was malnourished — she weighed only 6.5 kg — and could not sit, though children of that age start walking.
“We had decided to go for the first baby we saw. I don’t think it is fair to pick on children,” said Malathy.
The Menons and Iyengars are not the only ones. In recent times, many Mumbai-based families have adopted children with less than ideal health or with medical conditions like thalassemia, a non-cancerous tumour or a hole in the heart.
This was unheard of even two years ago as Indian couples used to want a ‘dream baby’ with perfect looks and health. They would reject a child even if he or she had a minor and correctible medical condition.
So, children like Trisha and Nandini used to remain in orphanages for longer periods and get adopted by foreigners.
But attitudes have changed. “People have become more open-minded and mature enough to realise their own child could have had a similar condition,” said Sunil Arora from Bal Asha Trust in Mahalaxmi. The trust has successfully placed HIV negative children (born to HIV positive parents) with couples in Mumbai.
Vandana Patil from Adoption Coordination Agency, which oversees adoption in the city, said the long waiting list was also responsible for making couples less fussy.
“It takes about two years to get a healthy child who is less than 12-months-old. So couples have started adopting slightly older children and those with minor medical conditions,” Patil said.
Take the case of Ramesh and Kripa Jha who wanted a sister for their nine-year-old son. The couple had registered for a three to six-month-old girl in 2008.
But when they got a call about a 14-month-old baby a year later, they decided to adopt her. It did not matter that she had a scar near her eye — a lump had been surgically removed from the spot — and suffered from constant cough and cold.
“These are small things. We just wanted a daughter and could not wait any longer,” said Ramesh.
Children with major and long-standing illnesses and disabilities are still adopted by foreign couples only, said Patil.
(Names of some children and their parents have been changed)