On Wednesday evening, a group of police officers, accompanied by a social worker, came looking for Sakkubai Shiva Kale, who lives on the street outside Mantralaya, the seat of government in Maharashtra.
The 66-year-old pavement dweller was initially fearful — but her fear turned to relief after the police told her they had come to take her nine-year-old grandson with multiple disorders away to a children’s home.
The Indian Express published the child’s picture in its Mumbai edition on Tuesday. It showed the boy tied to a rod at a bus shelter near Mantralaya — the way Sakkubai would leave him whenever she went to work so that he wouldn’t wander off or be run over by a vehicle on the bus street.
On Wednesday, The Indian Express published the boy’s story. He has cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder. His father died in 2010, and he was abandoned by his mother two months later. His grandmother sells toys at Girgaum chowpatty to sustain him and his 12-year-old sister Rekha.
In the evening, sub-inspectors S G Phanse and Santosh Tore, and social worker Meena Mutha took Sakkubai and the child to the government-run Children’s Aid Society in Dongri, which houses destitute and rescued children.
The boy has been temporarily admitted, officials at the facility said. A child welfare committee will assess him on Thursday. The procedure in the case of a child who is found to be mentally unfit is to try to track down his guardian to see if they can take care of him; if that is not possible, he is sent to a facility for children with mental illnesses.
“It took more than 24 hours before an NGO came forward to help the child. The city is hugely lacking in facilities, especially for children suffering from mental illnesses,” said Mutha, who has volunteered to ensure the child’s rehabilitation, and has been instrumental in getting him admitted to the Dongri facility.
Phanse called the child’s rehabilitation a joint effort that was triggered by the photograph published in The Indian Express, taken by the newspaper’s photographer Vasant Prabhu.
As the paperwork was completed over two hours at the facility, the child, dressed in a yellow shirt and brown shorts, slept on a bench in a corner of the superintendent’s office. His grandmother, who has been a pavement dweller all her life, was happy for the child, but concerned that she might never see him again.
“Will they let me meet him every once in a while?” she kept asking the police officers — until Mutha explained to her the procedure of visiting the child. “What do I do, I have brought him up,” she said.
As she left the Dongri home, Sakkubai broke down. She stopped, and looked back at the building where she had left her grandson. She then wiped her tears with the corner of her tattered cotton sari, and walked on.