More than a home for the homeless
(from a local newspaper, Hyderabad, India)
How cruel, inhuman and heartless can parents be? When you see three-year old Samir at the adoption centre of the Balika Nilayam colony here, you may have to redefine the concept of parentage and the carefully nurtured image of loving, caressing mothers and pampering fathers is bound to come crashing down.
Samir was just a few days old when he was abandoned by his parents as he was born deformed. Not his fault. Yet, he was deserted. Like other normal children he is active, plays around and radiates a smile whenever you talk to him. And if you happen to be a sensitive person you are sure to be overcome by emotions, struggling to fight back tears.
Like the other tiny tots he would make a desperate attempt to say “namaste uncle”, but all he could do is lift his half-formed arms up. When others climb onto to a chair, he would do the same as swiftly, though his two legs do not go beyond his knees. All four deformed limbs look like appendages. Yet, he has instinctively adapted and learnt the art of survival. A real heart-rending scene, but who would you blame? Parents or chromosomes or fate.
Shobha Rani was just five when she was brought by a village in Warangal to work as a maid servant in the city. A Good Samaritan brought her to Balika Nilayam. That was 16 years ago. She is now 21 and just completed B.Sc. Microbiology and waiting to get a job.
Laxmi was found deserted on a roadside. She is 22 now, completed graduation and happily married to a doctor.
Jeevitha was two-days-old and even before she could open her eyes properly and experience motherly love, she was left under a police jeep near Rai Durgam police station.
Six-year old Ganga was among the group of 13 girls brought from the Government certified juvenile home at Nimboliadda. As Mrs. Anuradha Reddy, executive committee member of Balika Nilayam, passes by, she clasps her pleading not to take her back to the certified home.
But for Balika Nilayam’s compassionate intervention, most of these hapless children would have ended up, God knows where – from seeking alms to becoming a burden on society. From an abandoned, unwanted, uncared girl-child, the Balika Nilayam grooms each of them into a complete, confident and self-reliant woman, taking care of their food, clothing, education and even marriage.
When the women leave they cannot forget the ‘ammas’ and ‘akkas’, two terms that doubled up for their parents and with which they had been familiar for more than two decades. To call the Balika Nilayam an orphanage or shelter for destitutes is doing a great disservice to it. Take it from any angle, it is an all-encompassing institution, worthy of being emulated, especially by the Government. “It has been more than a home for me”, says Shobha, one of the inmates.
The significance of this institution lies in the fact that it was started and entirely managed by a group of women, intensely committed to the cause. It was way backing 1958, Rani Kumudini Devi, who is now executive chairperson, Aluvelamma Subramaniam and Pramila Bhagwandas, having social service in their heart and time to spare, founded Balika Nilayam for orphaned girls. This was with support from Guild of Service, Madras.
What started as a home for three girls in a room in Aluvelamma’s house in Vijayanagar Colony is now a full-fledged institution comprising an orphanage and an adoption centre, accommodating 80 children. In 1975, when Mr. J. Vengal Rao was the chief Minister, a piece of land was given on a long lease by the Housing Board at Vijayanagar Colony, and the building was constructed with financial help from the Central and State Governments, besides donations. “But for the munificence of a few individuals and organizations, it would have been difficult to maintain”, says Mrs. Anuradha Reddy.
Registered as a society in 1979, it became Independent of the Madras organization, though it prefers to call itself Guild of Service Sevasamajam Balika Nilayam. From 1987 it started promoting adoption as an alternative to the institutional care of abandoned children.
The residential home admits and takes care of the orphaned and destitute girls, daughters of widowed, deserted and unwed mothers. There is a centre for placing abandoned children in legal adoption and vocational training unit for girls who have no academic aptitude. Every child is provided with school uniforms, casual wear, books, lockers and bedding. “We take care of their nutritional, educational, and medical needs”, says Mrs. Samrajam, matron, for nearly two decades.
The Balika Nilayam has performed marriages of 17 inmates, with Mrs. Kumidini Devi and Mrs. Manjula Iyengar, secretary, accompanied by their spouses performing the ‘kanyadanamu’. It is an elaborate traditional wedding with the Nilayam presenting ‘mangalsutra’, bridal clothes, vessels, and almirah, a Jain couple arranging lunch and a firm supplying tent and chairs for free. The grooms are carefully screened through their employers.
The adoption center is recognized as a placement agency by the Union Ministry of Welfare, facilitating adoptions within and from outside the country and as ‘fit person institution’ by the Home Department of the State Government, authorizing it to receive abandoned and orphaned children. “After a bit of motivation job, we go on to do home study of the prospective foster parents to ensure that the child is taken care of well”, says Mrs. Dechamma Banerjee, in charge of the centre.
Thanks to Mrs. Dechamma, and Dr. Prema Memon, pediatrician, who patiently examines all babies and toddlers, the adoption centre looks spic and span and the children clean and healthy. Look at them , not only childless parents but others also would like to pick up a child. Seeing the good work, Apollo Hospital and the Princess Durru Shever Children’s Hospital are extending free medicare to some of these children.