In a one-room shack, or under a staircase, 7 children were born to a family in Bhubaneswar and ‘sold’ or ‘given away’. Their tragedy continues.
It’s a one-room shack with a tin roof. The floor of the 6 ft-by-6 ft room is muddy, the roof of the toilet is blown off and the stench of urine is strong. It is here that Shyam Chandra Rao, his wife Pramila, and his mother-in-law Kuni have been living for 10-odd years.
Ignoring the smell around her, Pramila is frying leaves in a pan to eat. “At night, we roll out a mat and sleep on the floor,” she says. “On rainy days, when the roof leaks, we sleep under the staircase of neighbours.”
It was in this tiny space, barely noticeable behind one of the many crumbling homes of the Text Book Press Colony of government employees in Bhubaneswar, that seven children were born over the last 10 years. According to the authorities, Shyam and Pramila “gave one of them away” and “sold” three. Two of their children are “missing”, while one reportedly ran away.
Since July 16, when the story of children being sold in Orissa’s capital broke, the five children whose whereabouts could be traced have been brought back to shelters in Bhubaneswar, where they now stare at an uncertain future.
A 10-year-old boy found begging in Visakhapatnam in February by the Vizag Child Welfare Committee gave authorities the first hint of the Raos’ story. Shyam and Pramila’s eldest child, who appeared to be mentally unstable, he was found to be from Orissa, and sent first to Berhampur, and from there to the CWC Khurda (Bhubaneswar).
When Priyadarshini Rath, the child counsellor at CWC Khurda, talked to the boy, he said he had run away from home early this year as his family couldn’t support him and that his father made money selling his siblings.
On July 9, Shyam allegedly negotiated his latest “sale”, of a son born to him and Pramila just 14 days earlier. The buyer couple from Jagatsinghpur, who had two daughters, offered
Rs 6,000. On a Rs 10 stamp paper, Shyam vouched, “I am handing over the infant to Ranjit and Chandini Chowdhury as I am unable to bring him up due to poverty. I would not have any claim over the male child in the future.”
The Khurda CWC and NGO Ruchika Childline learnt about the alleged sale a week later. This time the news reached the state Assembly, leading to an uproar.
As investigators finally started probing the family, they realised that what the boy had been saying might be true.
Neighbours say that when Shyam and continued…