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She was not naked. She was not moving around on all fours. And there were no monkeys.
As the story of a “Mowgli girl” being found in the jungles of Katerniaghat here spreads, Head Constable Sarvajeet Yadav says the 11-year-old he rescued two and a half months ago has no resemblance to what is being reported by the media.
The girl, who was at the Bahraich district hospital for a long time after that, was on Saturday shifted to Lucknow’s Nirvan Hospital for the mentally challenged. Soon after, Women and Child Welfare Minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi visited her.
Part of a three-member patrol team attached to the Motipur police station, Yadav and his colleagues had rushed to the road connecting Bahraich to Lakhimpur on the evening of January 24, following a call on the Dial 100 emergency helpline about the girl.
Showing the spot where they found her, Yadav says, “Someone from Mihinpurwa town passing through here had seen her sitting by the road. We reached around 6.30 pm. There was fog all around.”
When they saw the girl, he says, “She was moving around on her haunches. She was wearing a frock and kachchha (knickers). She was very weak and tried to move away on seeing us… There were no monkeys. She was not naked, and she wasn’t using her hands to walk. I don’t know how these stories are being spread.”
Pointing out that there are no villagers around for 10 km, the Head Constable says, “We believe she was abandoned by her parents, who could not take care of her because of her mental condition.” The patrol team took her to the Motipur police station.
Motipur SHO Ram Avtar Yadav says, “We are 100 per cent sure she had not been by the road for more than 24 hours.”
The media reports on her, calling her Mowgli girl, after the Jungle Book character, have claimed she had been “living with monkeys in Katerniaghat jungle for months” and was naked when she was rescued, and that “policemen had to fight off monkeys surrounding her”.
Yadav’s colleagues at Motipur police station say the girl, estimated to be 11, was too weak to stand and hence dragged herself on her haunches. Later, says Sub-Inspector Dhanraj Yadav, the girl was handed over to the Mahila Police Station at Bahraich as they had no lock-ups for women at Motipur.
A Forest Department outpost is located barely 30 metres from where the girl was found, and forest officials too say they never saw her. G P Singh, Katerniaghat divisional forest officer, says, “I enquired with all the officials in the Motipur range. It is unlikely she was living in the forest and still could not be seen by anyone.”
Dr D K Singh, the Chief Medical Superintendent at Bahraich district hospital, says a Hindi newspaper first called her the “Mowgli girl”. He and the hospital have then been flooded with calls and visitors since.
When another report called her a “van-devi (goddess of the forest)”, Dr Singh says, the stream of visitors multiplied. “People started to come with families. A few even donated money and touched her feet. There were so many people coming that I had to post a guard.”
Singh, who accuses a sub-inspector of fanning the Mowgli story, believes the theory of her living with monkeys caught on as she would eat food that she spilled off the floor, and kick anyone who approached her.
A doctor in the same hospital points out that mentally ill children too report such behaviour.
The Chief Medical Superintendent adds that a month ago, after the girl completely healed, they started looking around for a home to put her in, but none of the NGOs was forthcoming.
Dr Alok Chantia, an anthropologist with Lucknow University who has watched videos of the girl and talked to doctors about her, says she doesn’t show any characteristics of living with monkeys, including puffy palms because of walking or hanging. “She walks erect. If she had been living with monkeys since birth, she would not be able to do so. Her knees are also not twisted like that of monkeys,” he says.
Assistant Nursing Superintendent Madhu Bhalla says the girl had started to drink milk from a bottle and have food two to three days after her admission, and tried to talk when she saw the sweepers who looked after her. Brushing away rumours of her eating her excreta, she says, “She ate biscuits, rice, dal. In about 20 days, she gained her strength and started to walk.”
Bhalla has her own theory on how the claim of her growing with monkeys spread. “We have a monkey who often comes to the hospital kitchen. One day he wandered into the general ward where this girl was admitted and some people made the story that it had come to meet her.”
Mohit Chandra, the clinical psychologist at the hospital, says that the girl was disoriented at first, but soon started to respond to non-verbal gestures. “Her adaptive skills are intact; she is able to learn.”
Dr Singh says a private psychiatrist examined her on Friday.
The president of the NGO that runs the Lucknow hospital where the girl was shifted on Saturday, S S Dhapola, said minister Joshi had promised to help them and to bring the matter to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s notice.
He added that he had named the child Ehsaas. “Her religion is not known and it is not proper to call her van-devi or Mowgli girl.”
He also claimed that in the hours since she came, the girl had uttered two words, “chalo” and “garmi”.
However, Dhapola has no doubt it all goes back to monkeys. He got the girl to his office and showed how she shied away when he interacted with her, and sat on the ground after touching a few objects on his table. Dhapola then kept showing his palm to her, asking her to touch it. After a few seconds, she started to rub her palm on his.
“Look,” he said, “this is how monkeys rub hands.”