3 years

True Life

The Irreversible

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Why I dumped my baby in a garbage heap
Manti Devi, from Chak Padri in Uttar Pradesh, cleans houses for a living and is married to a rickshaw-wala in New Delhi

I was 15 when I got married. My parents thought they were giving me the chance of a better life, but I was so young then, I did not understand anything about marriage: sex, children, family, a home.

I grew up in poverty. My father was a scrap dealer and my mother would clean houses to make ends meet. The groom, seven years older than me, was from our own village—Chak Padri in Uttar Pradesh—but he lived and worked in the city, in New Delhi, as a rickshaw walla. By sending me away from this dismal village, my parents believed they were giving me the promise of a brighter future. I was soon to realise that the life I’d been led to dream of was not for me.

My husband and I lived in a single room—in abysmal conditions. Newspapers served as our fans in the brutal summer months, and there was one bulb in the name of bijli (electricity). Money, I must admit, was not so much of an issue while it was just the two of us. But five months into the marriage, I was expecting my first child. It was a moment of joy and celebration. But who had the money to celebrate?

With the pregnancy came a host of health problems. I suffered from malnutrition, and the doctor I went to immediately prescribed several expensive medicines. That was my last visit to the doctor during the entire pregnancy.

Somehow, the nine months passed and I delivered a baby girl. I was ecstatic as I wrapped my arms around the little girl. But to my surprise, my husband was crying; he was upset and he was angry. He yelled about the expenses, added to which we would now have to save for our daughter’s marriage.

A year later, I was pregnant again. This time, expectations were high, we were both hoping for a boy. A boy who would take care of us when we grew old, who we did not have to save money for. But bad luck struck us again—a girl. This was when my husband’s behaviour towards me took a drastic turn. He spent all his money on alcohol and started coming home late in the night. Frequent arguments led to physical and violent fights.

We spent two years thus, squabbling and fighting, and I was pregnant again. My husband warned me that if I delivered another girl, he would kill me and our two daughters. I was ill throughout the pregnancy, with no money to pay for medical treatment. But this time was different, I luckily delivered a boy. We named him Raja. We gave him all our love and care. Unlike my two daughters, a boy in the house meant another earning member. I taught my two daughters household chores and took them to the houses I worked in so that they could learn how to do all this in the future. But my son was our angel. We saved every penny to send him to school.

Four years passed and poverty was taking a toll on us. This is when we decided to have another child, hoping for another boy to increase the number of earning members in the family. We went to a local tantric, who gave me herbal medicines and told me to chant a few mantras, which he said would assure us a baby boy. I delivered a girl. We had a breakdown. We were truly traumatised to see another girl. All the money we had given the tantric had gone waste.

We were fed up. We had four children by now—three girls aged seven, six and two months, and a boy aged four. We had no option but to live with four kids. Life was difficult till the time one of my employers had a baby. She was a working woman, and needed a babysitter. I recommended my eldest daughter. God blessed us and Mangli got the job. She was eight, but knew basic things like warming milk, making mashed potatoes and cleaning the child, since she was used to handling my little ones when I was away at work.

We managed alright for the next five years with this added income, even though by the end of each month, we were broke and forced to borrow money from friends, relatives and even our employers.

This is when the worst surprise of my life came. I found out that I was four months pregnant. I went to the local doctor and asked for an abortion, but he said this wasn’t possible. Malnutrition and anaemia meant that an abortion was a risk to my life. We couldn’t afford this; we had four children to look after.

We decided to continue with the pregnancy. But with four children, three of them girls, we couldn’t possibly manage the expenses of another. Financially, this would have killed us. By this time, I didn’t even feel an ounce for the baby inside me. I just wanted this child out of my system and out of my life. I cursed myself for being fertile, for still being able to reproduce. I was a burden on my family. During the pregnancy, because of my health issues, I couldn’t work and had to lie in bed the whole time. My daughters had to manage my work and the house.

The time came for me to deliver. We were so deep in debt that we did not even have money to go to a hospital; we went to a nearby clinic. Besides, this place wasn’t a stickler for security and documentation. By this time, my husband and I had already decided that the gender of the child no longer mattered; we simply couldn’t keep it. We did not have money, and we had a son to educate, and three daughters to marry. My husband tried to find prospective buyers for our unborn child, but failed. Thus it was planned that as soon as I gave birth, we would leave the child somewhere and disappear.

I delivered a baby boy. We were happy, very happy. But this happiness lasted but a moment. As soon as I was free to go home, we went to a nearby garbage dump and threw the baby in. That was the most difficult moment of my life, but that was the only way to get rid of it. Another child would mean more money, and our expenses were high enough already. We covered the baby with a few garbage bags so that no one could spot him in the heap. On returning home, I told my children, relatives and neighbours that it was a still birth, that we’d been unlucky.

But life wasn’t as easy as it seemed. Our neighbourhood grocery store owner had seen us abandoning the child. He took the baby to the police, who then called in people from an orphanage—I don’t know its name, but it is in Gol Market, near Connaught Place. All I know is that this was the start of my life becoming miserable, a living hell. The grocery store owner came to our house and told us that he knew it was us who had left the baby in the garbage dump. We were horrified, our shameful act exposed. But what else could we have done? With no money, huge debts hanging over our heads and four children to raise, we’d had no other option. We thought we were easing our pain, but life had something else in store for us.

The grocery store owner told us that the people at the orphanage had taken the baby away, and some childless people would now adopt him. I just couldn’t tolerate the fact that another woman would feed my child, bring him up and call him her son. Jealousy, guilt and regret filled my heart. Everything blurred and all I could see was my child, my little baby whom I had just given birth to and thrown away.

I felt like killing myself for the crime I had committed. That’s when I decided to go and get my child back. I spoke to my husband, but he was against it. He threatened to disown me and my three daughters. I was traumatised. But the mother in me came to the fore, I forgot all our problems, stopped thinking of the consequences. All I could think of was my baby and I wanted him back desperately.

I went to the orphanage thinking they would hand the baby over to me, but I was wrong. My child was now in their custody, and I didn’t even get a glimpse of him. In fact, they even threatened to report me to the police if I troubled them any longer.

I had no option but to return home empty-handed. This is what happens when you take decisions in a hurry. The day I threw away my child was the last day I saw him; probably the last I will ever see him.

I don’t know if he is still in the orphanage or whether he has been adopted. All I know is that he isn’t mine now. I still get upset that I couldn’t feed him milk, love him and see him grow.

My ears long to hear the word ‘Mai’ from him. But I know this will never ever happen.

Now he is in better hands and will have a better future than he would have had with us. As long as I live, I will regret letting go of my own baby who grew inside me, a child of my own blood. I understand now that things that get lost never return and some decisions in life are irreversible.

As told to Antara Chatterjee