Nation's shame: Starving Orissa family sells children
Anand S.T. Das
Raipur, September 22: Nothing in the world had prepared me for this. I had gone to Badagamada in Balangir as a curious journalist, but I came back as the owner of two children. Yes, reprehensible as the word is, owner. For, a starving Oriya family had begged me to buy Paree, 4, and his two-year-old sister Jemati so that the two children also wouldn't die of hunger.
Life is cheap in Orissa. For both children I paid Rs 1,100 and 15 kg rice - after some bargaining though - which would help the starving family hold out for a few days more.
On September 10, I had gone to Badagamada to find out what had happened to the three orphans of a tribal widow, Premshila Bhoi, who had allegedly died of starvation in December.
I couldn't believe my ears when the orphans' uncle requested me to take two of the three children with me. Dambaru, Premshila's brother-in-law pointed towards the two emaciated little toddlers. As I took in Dambaru's words, his wife Gangabali and some villagers urged me to take the children.
Paree sat outside the home of his uncle and aunt, leaning against the wall and staring vacantly at the people who had gathered there. Near him sat Jemati.
"We are unable to feed these two children as we do not have enough food for ourselves and our own children," said Dambaru. "Premshila's eldest son Hrudananda, however, is old enough to care for himself," he said. Hrudananda is just 10.
"Will you sell me your nephew Paree?" I asked Dambaru, who tends the three goats given to him at a 50 per cent discount by an NGO and works as a daily-wage labourer. His wife and two young children also work to supplement his income. His half-acre plot yields one paddy crop a year - enough to feed his family of seven for one whole month.
My offer to buy Paree evoked a quick reply from Gangabali: "Please take both because Jemati will die without Paree's company."
"Taking one will neither solve our problem nor can it change the fate of these two helpless children," said a relative. An old woman started crying: "Their parents died as no help came from the Government."
Paree's uncle and aunt would talk about money only after I promised to buy both children. I assured them that I would take away Paree first and come back for Jemati.
Dambaru and the villagers asked me to purchase coconuts for the puja. I had to fork out Rs 500 to the priest. Then I was asked to pay Rs 1,500 as a "parting gift" (bidakhi) before taking Paree with me. However, we settled at Rs 600.
As Dambaru handed Paree to me, the womenfolk started crying, begging me to feed the child well and to come again to take the other child. "When you return, bring 15 kilos of rice for the family," requested an old woman. As we got into the taxi, I asked Paree: "Do you feel like going back home?" "Naahin" ("No"), he said smiling.
On September 14, I returned to Badagamada. I had come with the rice, which I gave to Dambaru. I had bought some new clothes for Jemati, which her relatives made her wear. I told the villagers who had gathered near Dambaru's house that Paree was being taken care of at my house in Raipur.
The villagers set Rs 1,500 as Jemati's price. I bargained once again, saying that Jemati wasn't a boy. They sold me the child for Rs 500.
As we drove towards Raipur I saw a faint smile on Jemati's face. Perhaps it was in anticipation of meeting Paree. Or was it the promise of regular meals?