It was a match made in the verdant hills of Sundergarh. They were young and instantly struck a bond, strong enough to leave behind the pristine waterfalls and forests for a better future. Except, it was not to be. Mariyam (55) and Paulus Dang, both Scheduled Tribe Christians, were residents of two villages, around 20 km apart, in the northwestern district of Odisha.
They got married 20 years ago. After spending the first eight years of their marriage in Sundergarh, the couple decided to shift base to NCR. Paulus worked as a mason, Mariyam looked after the house. Sometime in 2006, they arrived in Gurgaon through contractors — and things started falling apart.
According to Mariyam, who was restored with her family after 12 years on Tuesday, Paulus left home one day saying he was going out in search of work. She has not seen him ever since.
The staff at Delhi’s Nav Kiran Halfway Home for the mentally ill told The Indian Express that after her husband left, Mariyam took up a job as a domestic help in Gurgaon. “All she remembers from that period is that she was hit by a rod by her employer one day. To escape further torture, she fled,” Jagriti Singh, a psychiatric social worker at Nav Kiran, said.
On Tuesday, Mariyam was beaming on meeting her brother Joseph Jojo, a farmer who travelled to Delhi the moment local police in Sundergarh came knocking with the question: did anyone by the name Mariyam go missing 12 years ago? His voice choking, Jojo described how they desperately looked for Mariyam all these years. “We didn’t know where to go. We had nearly given up hope.”
Nav Kiran staffers said Mariyam was found abandoned by the Delhi Police, which dropped her at the government-run Nirmal Chhaya Home for women in March 2017. She was brought to Nav Kiran, which currently has 54 inmates, on February 9 on a Dwarka court’s order.
The Home, catering to mentally ill patients who are not fit to stay at home but do not need hospitalisation either, was started in August 2017, superintendent Sangeeta Khatri said.
Sudipta Mazumdar, a clinical psychologist at Nav Kiran, said Mariyam is now off medication. “Initially, she was not able to tell her address. But gradually, she started communicating. When she told us the name of her village, we contacted local police,” Mazumdar said.
Mariyam and her brother Tuesday appeared before a Dwarka court, which ordered that she be reunited with her family. Afterwards, she was back at Nav Kiran to pack her belongings. Her brother teased her, saying she might not be able to recognise their village as it has seen a radical change over the last decade. Asked if she would like to visit Delhi in the future, Mariyam said, “Never again.”