Women's Feature Service



India - Cradle Project to Save Rajasthan’s Abandoned Baby Girls


The Mahesh Ashram in Rajasthan'sUdaipur, has been saving
newborn girls. This cradle home has 19 abandoned baby girls

who are getting quality professional care. (Credit: Renu Rakesh\WFS)


By Renu Rakesh 


Udaipur (Women’s Feature Service) – Post the eye-opening first episode of Aamir Khan's chat show, 'Satyamev Jayate', which brought the reality of sex selective abortions to national television, various state governments as well as civil society organisations have been stirred into action. But long before it became the cause of the season, an initiative in Rajasthan's tourist haven, Udaipur, has been doing its bit to save newborn girls.


In August 2006, within a period of two weeks, two female foetuses were reported to be found floating in the city’s famed Fatehsagar Lake. Almost simultaneously, another similar incident was reported from the neighbouring district of Chittorgarh. Those incidents changed the life of a city businessman forever. 


An inquiry into Rajasthan’s child sex ratio revealed that there were only 909 girls in the 0-6 age group for every 1,000 boys in the state, according to the 2001 Census. Unfortunately, this number has only declined over the last decade – the 2011 census reports just 883 girls for 1,000 boys.


Why do Rajasthanis reject daughters? Where have all those missing girls gone? What can be done to turn this dismal situation around? Devendra Agarwal, 38, had no answers to these questions that were troubling him. But one thing was clear in his mind: He had to do something to rescue such girls.


Recalls this once-successful marketing professional, “I was moved by the visuals of foetuses floating on the water. I thought if someone could take care of the unwanted girls, they would neither be killed nor abandoned or dumped in hedges and dustbins.”


Agarwal started by putting up a cradle outside his home in the city’s busy Surajpole area. Within a week, he had three baby girls in his home. He smiles, “We were looking for one sister for my two sons, and suddenly we had three.”


These three girls gave a new direction to Agarwal’s life plans. When the Udaipur’s Child Welfare Committee (CWC) came to know that he had abandoned newborns in his home it decided to take them away, saying that they needed to be put up for adoption. When he tried to stop them, legal hassles followed. “I fought the case right up to the Supreme Court where, too, I lost. I couldn’t save these girls. In the meantime, I was charged with contempt by the Rajasthan High Court and arrest warrants were issued against me twice,” he recalls.


Those were tough times for him and his family but that’s when he decided that saving newborn girls was going to be his new calling. Agarwal instituted an organisation, the Maa Bhagwati Vikas Sansthan, under which the Mahesh Ashram was set up. Built with a loan of Rs 23 lakh, this home based in Udaipur’s Bhuwada locality, today has 19 abandoned baby girls who are getting quality professional care.


Says Agarwal, “I realise that a lot of women are compelled to give up their daughter because of family and social pressures. In fact, many a time, the mother is not even aware that the girl she gave birth to has been taken away from the hospital bed and dumped. We want to save such lives. All we say is: ‘Don’t throw them, give them to us’.”


To make that happen, the Mahesh Ashram has put up two cradles – one outside the busy MB Hospital and the other at the ashram’s doorstep. An alarm sounds after two minutes of a child being placed in the cradle, giving ample time for the mother or any other family member to leave.


In the five years this ashram has been functional Agarwal and his team have been able to save 67 girls. “Unfortunately, we lost six girls, who were very sick when we found them. One of them was thrown from a running car. She was bleeding profusely when my team found her. We rushed her to the hospital, where three units of blood were given, but she couldn’t survive. Another one was left under a running tap in a hospital’s bathroom on a cold winter night. She was on a ventilator for nine hours before she succumbed,” he recounts with sadness.


To give the particularly vulnerable children the best of healthcare, the Mahesh Ashram has acquired photo-therapy machines, warmers and oxygenators besides a dedicated staff of 20 ‘ayahs’ (local nurses) and one general nurse and midwife (GNM). “Now, we are gearing up to start a neonatal care unit at the ashram itself so that complete care can be provided within its premises. The construction of this unit is in full swing at the moment,” informs Agarwal.


Of course, saving the little ones is not Agarwal’s only mission. The Mahesh Ashram has also taken on the responsibility of finding loving, stable homes for them. Says Agarwal, “I failed in my first attempt – with the three girls – because I had no knowledge of what the law said regarding the adoption of abandoned babies. But once we started the ashram we are more organised in our approach.” He formed a childcare committee, comprising senior government officials – an IPS officer, an IRS officer, the vice-vhancellor of a university, a chartered accountant and Agarwal himself on the board – to conduct the ashram’s adoption-related activities.


In fact, in 2009, Mahesh Ashram became a specialised adoption agency (SAA) after getting a licence from the Social Justice and Empowerment Department (SJED) of the Government of Rajasthan.  To date, they have found parents for 41 babies, although Agarwal admits that it’s not easy to find homes for them because people in the state are still fixated on boys. “It takes us a lot of time to ensure a stable life for these girls. Even now, we have 30 applications pending for adoption, but all of them are for a male child and, sadly, our search for suitable parents for 17 beautiful girls continues. Of course, one has to point out here that when couples do come forward to adopt girls they do so unconditionally. In fact, those who come looking to adopt boys are more choosy – most often they want ‘fair, good-looking’ kids,” he says.


Commenting on actor Aamir Khan’s much publicised move to save the girl child, he says, "It's really ironical that at the time when Khan was holding a meeting with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, a girl was abandoned in our ashram's cradle."


Whether it’s a call on national television to save India’s girl children or an individual’s efforts – like that of Agarwal and his Mahesh Ashram – the fact is that there is no hope for India’s abandoned girl children unless everybody, including those in the medical profession, work towards making change happen.