The nine women who broke the tall grills of the boundary wall of the Nari Sanrakshan Gruh in Odhav area of the city and escaped to freedom, on the night of October 8, might well have had reason enough to tell a tale.
Alpa, a native of Dholka, an unwed mother who was celebrating her daughter’s first birthday on Saturday, says. “I got pregnant out of a relationship with a boy who is languishing in Sabarmati jail now. My mother tells me that I am 16 but I am 18. After his arrest, the police left me here. I am not married but mother of a baby girl”.
She says that she does not want to live here because she is being treated as a prisoner. “We get food twice a day and some milk for the babies but no medical facilities, no contact with family members, no communication facility. Some of us have been living here since childhood in pathetic conditions.”
Out of the nine women who had escaped, five of them have been traced and brought back to this home for destitute women, which has in all 60 women, including 35 mentally challenged women.
The Indian Express visited the home and found the women living in fllthy conditions, in rooms stinking with urine and defecation around their beds, rats gnawing away at left over food and cockroaches swarming all over the place.
The women brought here include rape victims, ostracised women or those whose parents are in jail.
The Nari Sanrakshan Gruh functions under the social welfare and women and child development departments of the state government.
Vatsala Shah (19), one of the girls who led the group to flee out of the women home, holds a diploma in engineering. She was an orphan raised in Mahipatram Ashram and later adopted. She fell in love as a teenager and eloped with a minor boy who is now in a juvenile remand home.
Her parents wanted to take her back but she refuses to go with them.
She says, “I can make a living outside, work and live a happy life with my boyfriend. I don’t want to live with my parents. I am waiting for him to unite with me. I was raised in that family but I don’t want to live with them after they objected to my decision of living with this boy. I am not happy here living in this filth. We are abused and not given enough food too.”
While Vatsala’s father wants her back, others in this home are not as lucky.
Gauri, a native of Bihar was deserted at the Ahmedabad Railway Station by her husband because he had been forced to marry her. She said, “I don’t know the language people here talk. I want to go back to Rangamati, my village. Here, I can’t eat the food they make, have no clothes to change for days and don’t get proper sanitation facilities.”
The 35 mentally challenged women share the space with other women on the ground floor. They are made to sleep on the floor in the lobby on sheets as the rooms meant for them are locked.
A rape victim among them, who is also hearing and speech impaired, sits with a six-month-old baby in her lap, smiling away. A destitute, she was raped on the streets of Ahmedabad and brought here.
Rekha Rana Gyan Singh (30), a BCom graduate who speaks fluent English says, “I was cheated by my brother who left me in Ahmedabad saying that I will get a government job here. Now he is nowhere to be found. The railway police brought me to this women home. My life is hell over here. We are kept with mentally challenged patients who even assault us sometimes. I suffer from depression for the last eight years but I am not getting medicines for the same.”
She says that the plan to run away had been hatched for a long time, and she was to join them, but backed out at the last minute. “Next time when such a plan is made we all will run away together. We are jailed here for having committed no offence and have full rights to live a dignified life outside,” she says.
Three of the women here are afflicted with HIV-positive, including a 60-year-old who is a resident of Kalyan in Mumbai. They are made to sleep on the floor.
Bhavna Jog, superintendent of the women home says, “We are doing everything possible from our side but we neither understand their language nor what they want. So we can’t do anything for them. The women are sent here on court orders or otherwise when found after they go missing. Of the 20 younger women, at least 15 are from Gujarat.”
A senior officer from Ahmedabad Police said, “When police find destitute women in need of care and protection, they are sent to this women’s home. However, here the girls are being kept with mentally challenged patients which is worse than a criminal’s term in jail. The administrators have no idea of the stage of HIV infection among them. The other adult, healthy and educated girls are being forcefully kept there because there is no one to fight their case for freedom, in court”.