The miraculous return of a 17-year-old mentally disabled and visually impaired girl from Jammu after five years has posed a peculiar question for her grandparents: Can the family of 10 keep her at home, given that they don’t have a toilet?
Chanchal had gone missing from Kedarnath during the 2013 floods, which led to thousands of deaths. She was taking the pilgrimage with her parents and six sisters when tragedy struck. While she was reunited with her family on Monday, her father is still missing.
“We are happy to have her back after five years, but are now wondering if she’s better off at a hostel. We can’t take care of her properly, we don’t even have a toilet at home. The women go to a public toilet nearby for Rs 5, but she can’t be sent alone as she wanders off,” said Chanchal’s uncle Mohan, a cobbler, sitting at the family’s cramped home in Aligarh’s Bannadevi.
On Wednesday, Mohan and Chanchal met District Magistrate Chandra Bhushan Singh. “He has offered to help with her medical expenses and studies if we keep her with us. He also gave us the option to send her to a hostel. I think we prefer that,” said Mohan. The girl currently lives with her paternal grandparents, who say her mother hasn’t been in touch for the last five years.
Her grandmother, 65-year-old Shakuntala Devi, said her son Rajesh, his wife Seema and their seven daughters, including Chanchal, had gone to Kedarnath in 2013 to “ask the deity for a son”. “Rajesh called to ask if we want to join them, but we refused. Then we heard about the floods and were told by relatives that Rajesh and Chanchal were missing. The girl’s mother and sisters never called or visited us afterwards; we don’t know where they are,” said Devi.
Dressed in a salwar-kameez, Chanchal walks around the house hugging Devi, her aunts, and her uncle. “Pata nahi mummy papa kahan hain… Kedarnath mein maiyya ka paani aaya tha, phir main kho gayi,” said Chanchal. On May 2, 2015, she was admitted to Rotary Inner Wheel Home for Mentally Retarded Children in Jammu. “Police brought her to the home; we don’t know where she was for two years before that. She was suffering from tuberculosis when she reached us, and received treatment here. She couldn’t study because she can’t see, but she is a very sharp girl. She remembered her grandmother’s address in Aligarh and told the Child Welfare Committee members when they visited a few months ago. For two months, efforts were made to repatriate her with her grandparents,” said Rajni Sharma, the girls’ warden at the home.
A month ago, a police officer from Bannadevi police station visited Devi to enquire about Chanchal. Around the same time, Aligarh MLA Sanjeev Raja received a call from the CWC in Jammu. “I put them in touch with Gyanendra Mishra, president of Udaan Society, an NGO here. He helped reunite the girl with her family,” said Raja.
On Monday, Mishra reached Devi’s home with Chanchal, a blanket, a set of clothes, her medicines, and Rs 1,000.
As Chanchal sat on a cot between her grandmother and uncle, she recalled her schedule at the home: “I got ready every morning on my own, I also learnt counting. Sheetal and Rupali ma’am were very nice to me. I like Maggi, and in the last two days, my aunt has made Maggi a few times. I am very happy but my grandmother is so old now, it makes me sad.”