Tuesday, February 2, 2010

When Protectors turn Predators...

Amina is a 12yr old special child. She came to me as a 10yr old... gang raped and mute. The police just dumped her with us for safe care,as no case could be booked. The child was hardly in a position to point out who had barbarically torn her!
For two years we nurtured Amina,with all the care..with all the compassion we possessed. We even got two of my staff trained in National Institute of Mental Health(NIMH) to gain skills to take care of special children.

Two years later Amina could speak a lot of words...she would come running to me…hugging me tight not allowing other children to come near me until she had her full.

As Amina grew older we felt quite at a disadvantage as we were less equipped to handle Amina and 7 other kids in the home who were mentally retarded. After a lot of internal discussion all of us in the team felt it would be better for these children if they were admitted in a home for special children, where they would be educated/trained with other special children. I was told many organizations were even specialized in providing occupational therapy which will in the long run make them employable. And hence it was decided to shift Amina and other special children to specialized home …convinced that would give them a better opportunity for mainstream life.

Our search for a good home was filled with challenges and hurdles. The name ‘Prajwala’ became a curse as it meant not just an anti trafficking organization but also a group who took care of a large number of trafficked HIV positive persons. Most reputed homes point blank refused admission on the presumption that Amina could be HIV positive(incidently she is not). We even took the support of Commisioner, Disabled Welfare to pressurize organizations who had Grant in Aid from Government of India to take these children. We were rejected by all. Most homes were willing to get into the bad books of the authorities but not take these children!

A newspaper classified ad that appeared in a leading English daily was the first ray of hope for us. Child Development Mission,an organization willing to take special children had advertised. We rushed to meet the organization. The friendly reception of the staff and the over enthusiasm of the team to welcome us at that time was really heart warming (after all the cold reception this was a welcome respite). But for some unknown reason (maybe it was our paranoid outlook) we decided not to admit all our children in the same place. Only Amina was admitted. Our team members informed the organization that we would be visiting every week to monitor Amina’s welfare which the organization strongly discouraged. We concluded as we had an organizational policy maybe they too had regarding visitors for residents.

In spite of the discouragement our team members went once a month to visit Amina. The first two meetings was uneventful. On the third visit we realized the organization had shifted its home. Panic set in when no neighbors could tell us where the organization had moved out and all phone numbers we had did not work. During this time I was traveling so Deepa my Director,Programs organized a team of senior members to hunt the organization. On a lead she even organized a decoy operation which finally lead us to the main functionary of Child Development Mission. The phone conversation with this gentleman was perhaps one of the most rude conversation we ever had. Only after our team threatened police action that this man mellowed down and gave us a cock and bull story of all children being sent away for Puja holidays and only Amina being housed in a care taker’s house.Such was our anxiety for Amina’s well being that we did not even question him why he had not informed us of the same…or why they had shifted…or what has happened to all phone numbers.In spite of all the persuasion he would not divulge the information where Amina was kept,just went on repeating that we could pick up Amina the next day. That night was the longest night for all my team members.

The next day our people rushed to the designated spot, a small room in a slum. The sight that awaited us was shocking to say the least. A totally unrecognizable Amina…with swollen face, swollen legs, barely able to stand …she was sitting in the room with a old woman who looked like a beggar. We brought back Amina, more shocks awaited us we when thoroughly examined her body. There were marks of bruises, burns all over her body. The greatest helplessness-Amina could not tell us what exactly happened.

Amina is now undergoing treatment for the last one week. We are planning legal action against the organization.
And I as I sit and mull over all these events, filled with untold guilt for the trauma we have caused in Amina’s life, would it have been better if Amina was with me without any real options for mainstream life…(until I am skilled to handle this issue…I don’t know how many more skills I need to master before I can handle it all)…living in a safe place but without any clear future ahead.

But my larger feeling is of anger and outrage.
When people/organizations claiming to be protectors and saviors turn predators doesn’t the world lose faith in the word TRUST.