M A I N   N E W S

In Panipat orphanage, children at owner’s mercy
Geetanjali Gayatri/ TNS

Panipat, May 24
Three unswept, unkempt rooms 20 children call their home and a childhood suffocating in the blank walls that surround them. This is the first impression of the Bal Anathalya as you step in after crossing iron gates at Saundhapur village.

There are broken beds, standing not on their own legs but on bricks, where some girls lie asleep. Other children watch a wall-mounted television intently. Absent among the children is enthusiasm and any sign of laughter.

The air is heavy with suspicion after the Rohtak shelter home expose as a woman in her late 40s steps out of one room to ask the reason for the visit. Birmati, the “mother” to the children, is wary of discussing the “facilities” she is offering to the children.

“These children are very happy here. They go to school, come back, have their food and play. Every day they have fun,” she says as she smiles at the children eager to see the new guests.

She hardly leaves them alone for an interaction. The children, too, hardly speak, except saying that all is well and they are happy. Ask them about what they do all day and if visitors ever visit the orphanage? They look at the “mother” to say they don’t know anything.

Put up in one room while the other two rooms are a picture of complete disarray, the boys and girls shy away from answering questions. Abhishek, a nine-year-old boy, is moved to tears when asked if he would like to go and stay with his mother.

The owner, Amarjeet Singh, intervenes to explain, “His mother is very poor and has three other children to feed. They are all younger to him. So, she has left him with us. He’s happy because he sleeps on a full stomach and goes to school.”

Ankur and Ankit, two brothers, are living at the orphanage because their mother can ill-afford to keep them with her. The elder one, Ankur, manages to say “all-is-well” even before you ask him and adds, “I don’t want to go back with my mother. I want to stay here.”

That the children are not themselves is evident in a conversation you try to strike with Puja, a 10-year-old who has come to the home recently. She keeps mum and doesn’t even bother to know what she has been asked. She can’t read and can’t write more than her name. After much prompting, all she says, as she walks out, is, “I don’t want to answer. I’m hungry because I slept on an empty stomach. Ask others.”

The children are adamant that they do nothing in the name of household chores though people living around the orphanage say that they sweep floor, wash utensils and even help the gardener.

Radhika, who has been at the orphanage since childhood, is the most jovial of the lot. “We get food on time and are allowed to play and study. We have a good time together,” she says.





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