Around 5 am on 29 April, Sita (name changed), a 12-year-old ragpicker, delivered a girl child on a pavement in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Two weeks earlier, a local daily had highlighted the plight of this pregnant child on its front page. But no government officer or policeman who read the news could be bothered with the horror of a child going into labour on a footpath unattended. Sita went on to survive the delivery. A media blitz ensued. A fortnight after Sita became a child mother, we are told that she is living a “happy” life in a government-run children’s home. But no access to her is granted. The truth about Sita and what happened to her has many versions. The three people who knew her—her father, her brother and the boy she was friends with—are untraceable. The only quality about Sita that is known is that she spoke very little. Open brings you a series of eyewitness narrations of how Sita came to be a pre-teen mother.
NEW CUSTODIANS: THE GOVERNMENT
Superintendent, Shishu Grih
(On being asked about Sita, who has now been under her care for the last ten days, the superintendent prefers to read out of a file)
She was brought to us on 2 May. Sita is the daughter of Heera Lal, who belongs to Mandasor village in the state of Madhya Pradesh. She was found on the footpath near the [Jaipur] railway station by the public. She is 12 years old. She is illiterate. She is a ragpicker.
Her mother is dead. Her father is a beggar. She has a brother and a sister. A Bihari boy, Raju, made friends with her. They collected garbage together. Raju had promised to marry her. During the one-and-a-half months that she lived with him, she became pregnant. After her delivery on the footpath, she was admitted to hospital. And from there, she was moved here.
(Asked the same question again, she elaborates.)
She is happy. Her life is better here. She is getting food. There is no problem. Her health is fine. The baby is also doing fine. She is feeding it. Sometimes, she says that we should keep the child and let her return to her father. Her father wants to take her back. But we have to keep her till the case is solved.
What will you talk to her about? She is an illiterate. What views will she have? This happens to so many girls who live on the pavement, many of them no older than her.
(When asked whether the counsellor appointed to the Shishu Grih had met Sita, the superintendent said she hadn’t come on her rounds in the ten days that Sita had been admitted there.)
Additional Director, Administration, Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of Rajasthan
You have come all the way from Delhi. Your news network must be really good. You see, the girl and her baby were found on the footpath. And we have given her shelter. This is how society is. She has become a mother at 12. But we are aware of our duties. Her father wants to take her away but we have welcomed her. We are feeding her and giving her medicine. She is doing alright now.
(He asks his PA to get him Kiran Panwar on phone): Hello Kiranji. The people from Delhi are here. You did the right thing by sending them to me. So tell me, how is the baby? Are you feeding her halwa or not? Achha, she is having halwa made with ghee? That’s great. Have the doctors checked on her? Very well. (Hangs up) We all feel bad, We are also human beings.
Paanwala near the footpath Sita lived on
Refused to give his name
She was only a child. I think she was less than 12 years old. I began to notice her only a few months ago. We came to know that she was pregnant when we read about her in the newspaper. She used to come around here to collect garbage. She used to live with her father on the next street. I’m not very sure if he was her father or not. There were also two boys who lived on that street.
I remember seeing her the night before she gave birth. She seemed like she was in pain. She was sitting with her head on her knees. She was rocking back and forth. The next morning, my son told me that there was a baby lying next to her. I was surprised that she was still alive. Then the ambulance came and took her away. I don’t see her father anymore.
Mutton Shop Owner
She used to live on this street with her father and another boy. The two of them used to collect garbage together. When I first noticed that she was pregnant, I went to the Sadar police station. It is on the street behind us. I told the police about this girl. But nobody bothered. I spoke to the boy who was with her and asked him what he was up to. He told me that she was his sister. I used to give her food off and on. She used to wear loose clothes, so it wasn’t easily noticeable that she was pregnant. I called the helpline to inform them about this girl. They came to take her, but she refused to go with them so they went away.
Then, I told one my friends about her when he came to my shop. And he informed a reporter. And so the press came and spoke to her. But she refused to be photographed. But they finally convinced her. They made her hide her face and then took her picture. And the story was published in the newspaper. But even then, no one came. Only more reporters came. They tried to get her to talk by promising her a house. But she refused to talk. Even TV reporters came.
The morning she delivered, I was not around. Someone from the hotel nearby found her and called the ambulance. A big crowd had gathered. And the medical van came and took her to the hospital.
I used to joke around with her sometimes. But she never talked much. She used to say that I loaf around too much and that she didn’t want to talk to me. She hardly ever spoke. I pick rags around here. I live at the railway station nearby.
I have a family back in Ajmer. But I don’t like to live at home, they make me work. I don’t like housework and so I ran away. I prefer to live here.
There were two boys who lived with Sita. But one of them didn’t do what’s right for her. I knew that she was carrying a baby. I saw her on the morning that she delivered. I was coming back from the toilet and there was a baby lying next to her. I don’t know if the baby was a boy or girl. But she wasn’t crying or anything. Then the ambulance came. But she was refusing to go. We wrapped the baby in a cloth. I was the one who helped her into the ambulance. And then, the two of them were taken to hospital.
Superintendent, Mahila Chikitshalaya, Sanganeri Gate
This is the first time that we have seen a 12-year-old girl who has conceived and delivered a full-term baby. It is a very rare case. The baby is healthy, it weighed about 2.5 kg. The girl was mentally sound and physically fit.
She said that she was married to a boy named Raju. He was a ragpicker like her. About 15 days or a month ago, he ran away and left the girl with her father, who is mentally ill. The father was insisting that girl was his daughter but the baby was not hers.
I remember her saying: “I’m married to Raju. He used to live with me. Where did he go? He didn’t tell me that he was leaving. This baby is mine. I gave birth on the footpath.”
In the hospital, we don’t have a counsellor as such. We talk to the girl and take down details, case history and so on. From her behaviour or talking style, it doesn’t seem like she has had a traumatic experience. She was kept here like a VIP patient. She and the baby were given clothes. Everyone was very excited to see her.
Bhavar Singh Meena
Resident Medical Officer
She was a small girl. She was brought by the 108 ambulance here on 29 April at 7:09 am. Her father was with her. The delivery took place around 5 am. We didn’t record her height and weight here at the hospital, but my estimate is that she was about 35 kg and 4 feet tall. She was admitted here for three days. She was doing fine. She was breastfeeding her child.
She lived near the railway station with her brother and her father. While she was at the hospital, she used to miss her father a lot. She would ask for him off and on. She would say: “Bring my father. I want to share my food with him.” After her mother died, her father became mentally affected. According to the girl, the mother was a teacher. Her elder sister, she said, looked after their land back in the village.
She didn’t like reporters at all. And she would cry when photographers took her photos. She would immediately hide her face.
Things like this happen. There have been cases of small children like her coming here for abortions. Of course, in this case, the pregnancy lasted full term and the girl ended up giving birth.
Reporter, Samachar Jagat
Before I broke Sita’s story I met her twice. The first time, 11 April, I found her near the flyover. Her father was also there, he seemed mentally disturbed. I told her I belong to a voluntary organisation and wanted to ensure she got medical care. I told her she was too young to have a baby. She was shy but opened up, slowly. She said she had met this boy from Ajmer at the railway station who promised to marry her. The boy took advantage of her. She told me she was four or five months pregnant. She asked me for money and a doctor. She and the boy had asked the mutton stall owner for Rs 4,000. I told her I could give her food and medicines but not money.
The next day, there were a couple of boys with her. I thought they were drunk. One of the boys said he didn’t want any food or medicines, only money. Another boy said he was the one looking after her and that I should give him money. Then one of them tried to snatch my laptop. The people from the mutton stall had to tell him to back off. A few days later, I read she had given birth.