There’s a curious buzz outside the neonatal ward of the civil hospital in Ahmedabad’s Asarwa, all eyes on “that child”. But a sharp look from Constable Sona Ranjit sends the crowd scurrying for cover while Constable Sejal Parmar picks up the three-day-old baby and gently pats her back, helping her burp.
“Look at how pretty she is, all pink and beautiful. I have been in tears after doctors told us about her abnormality,” says Parmar, 22, from the Mahila Police Station in Rajkot, where the baby’s mother hails from.
The baby’s mother is virtually a baby herself. Just 11 years old, police say she was raped repeatedly by six people over the last eight or nine months.
The trauma was to have ended on March 17, when the girl gave birth at the general hospital in Rajkot. But then, doctors discovered that the baby had a congential defect called spina bifida, which means her spine and spinal cord failed to develop fully, leaving her paralysed and fighting for life.
“The baby was brought to the civil hospital on the night of March 17. It’s a critical case. We are running a few tests, including an MRI, to see how much damage has happened. Her legs are already paralysed,” says Dr Rakesh Joshi, who heads the Department of Paediatric Surgery.
“In consultation with the neurosurgery department, we will decide if we should operate on the baby or not. The surgery might ensure that she stays alive but she will lead a tough life as she will be paralysed and there might be other complications,” says Joshi.
“Besides genetic factors, an inadequate diet before and during pregnancy is also responsible for this defect. According to reports, this baby was born at around eight months and she is around one-and-a-half kg, which is healthy. It’s just that from spine down, her case is critical,” he says.
According to officials, a committee has been formed at the hospital to take a decision by March 20 on whether surgery can be done or not. Police say five of the six accused — Manji Javiya (67), Aravind Kubavat (52), Vijanand Maiyad (47), Vipul Chavda (40) and Govind Sakariya (60) — are in judicial custody. The sixth accused, a 17-year-old, is in a juvenile detention facility.
But all that’s of little consolation for the rape victim’s maternal grandmother, slumped in one corner of the ward, deep in prayer, her eyes shut.
“We don’t want the baby because my granddaughter is a child. My daughter just called me to say my granddaughter is in pain because of the stitches on her stomach. If we accept the child, it will ruin my granddaughter’s life,” she says, breaking down in tears.
“My granddaughter used to stay with me all the time as my house is just a five-minute walk from hers. My son-in-law is mentally ill, my daughter works as a domestic help and runs the family. What have we done to deserve this fate?” says the grandmother.
The baby’s cries echo in the ward, and Constable Ranjit tries to calm her. “Sejal and I have been with the child since she was born. In Rajkot, we were given the baby first,” says the 23-year-old policewoman.
Ranjit says she and her colleague, both unmarried, were taught to take care of the baby, even getting her to burp, by a nurse.
“We were told by the victim’s family that they do not want to keep the baby, even for a single day. So I guess she will be taken to an orphanage. But we are doing whatever we can because I think from the time she was born, there’s been a bond with her. We call her Devi, we hope she lives,” she says.