A two-year-old toddler’s fate hangs in the balance with a Bollywood film director-writer who fostered the child over the past seven months, as his biological mother underwent treatment for schizophrenia, seeking to retain his custody longer.
The 30-year-old mother said she was medically fit to look after her son now, but the foster family has raised concerns over her mental state. Amidst all this, the child has lived in three homes over the past one year.
At a meeting of the Mumbai CWC on December 1, the Bollywood director and the NGO that had been handed over the care of the baby said they should keep him longer, as the mother was not yet fit mentally. The CWC directed that the child be moved out of the foster home and given to a local NGO, but reversed the same a few hours later, at midnight.
The Women and Child Development (WCD)’s Mumbai city department has now called for a detailed inquiry report from the CWC and the NGOs involved, even as the CWC has sought a fresh medical fitness certificate for the mother from a government hospital. “We will take a decision by next week,” Deputy WCD Officer, Mumbai, Prema Gadge said.
It is the first time that the director who has made several high-profile movies, and who is married and has a son, has fostered a child. He did not respond to calls or messages from The Sunday Express.
The mother had wandered off from the home of her husband, a daily wager, in Kanpur with the toddler, then a newborn, leaving a 12-year-old son behind. By early 2019, she was living on a Mumbai footpath with the baby. In September 2019, according to the NGO Family Service Centre (FSC) that handled his foster care, the Borivali Government Railway Police found the child badly bruised, with bite marks, with the woman claiming he had slipped out of her hands and injured himself.
While the woman was referred to the Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation, an NGO for mental illness treatment, the infant was taken by the CWC under its care. A year old by then, he was placed with FSC. The latter put him in the care of a family.
By November last year, the woman had recovered enough to remember the address of her father, a farmer, in Bhojpur, Bihar, and officials were able to trace her to Kanpur. However, a CWC member said, the boy’s father wasn’t willing to come to Mumbai, and they decided to continue the foster care till the mother fully recovered.
In January this year, the woman got a medical fitness certificate and met her son for an hour on January 21.
However, in May this year, the NGO shifted the baby to the Bollywood director’s home as the other family said the lockdown made it difficult for them to care for him. The CWC said it was not informed about this.
Under the Juvenile Justice Act, a family is assessed by an NGO before it is referred to the WCD to be registered as a foster caregiver. As per Model Guidelines for Foster Care formulated by the Centre, a foster family can adopt a child after five years of care, if the child has no biological family claiming her. The director is not looking to adopt the boy, FSC officials said.
Says the mother: “Since January I am trying all means to get his custody. I will look after him, I will take good care of him.” With the lockdown causing delay, it was finally only on November 4 this year that FSC wrote to the child’s grandfather to take his custody. “Aap jald se jald Mumbai aakar apne naati ko apne ghar le jayiye (Come to Mumbai at the earliest and take your grandson back home),” the letter said.
Dr Bharat Vatwani, the founder of Shraddha, in his communication with the CWC, has said the woman may develop “severe reactive depression” if kept away from her son for long. The foundation has also assured that it will monitor her future treatment in Bhojpur. A DNA test result last month confirmed that the woman was the two-year-old’s biological mother.
CWC member Urmila Jadhav said, “Whatever we do will be in the best interest of the child. We have reached out to the CWC in Bhojpur to assess if some aid can be given to the child for education.” A CWC member said, “If the mother’s treatment is continued, there is no reason to deny her guardianship.”
The grandfather, who has been in Mumbai for three weeks now, has given an undertaking to look after the child. “I don’t understand why I can’t see or get my grandson back,” he said.
In an e-mail reply to The Sunday Express, FSC Director Nirmala Fernandes said, “The foster family is definitely not interested in adopting him… They are only concerned for his welfare. He was to be handed over to the biological family, the foster family was prepared for it… However, seeing the mother’s condition, they were apprehensive and requested that the child be in foster care for a little longer and once the mother is fine he can go.”
An assessment of the woman’s home in Bhojpur is underway by the CWC.
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