An organization that has saved and given home for abandoned infants
Nearly three years ago, Radha, an infant then, was found lying in thorny bushes in Rajasthan's Pratapgarh district. The palm-sized girl child was badly bruised and almost dead.
Today, Radha is a chirpy curly-haired girl with big eyes. She could have been another case of female infanticide in Rajasthan which, as per independent statistics, reports 2,000 such cases every day - startling as the figure may sound.
Maa Bhagwati Vikas Sansthan has rehabilitated 94 children through adoption (Photo : Indian Photo Agency - for representational purpose only)
But Radha was lucky. She is one among the 110 girls who have been saved by the cradle of NGO Maa Bhagwati Vikas Sansthan which runs Mahesh Ashram - a home for abandoned infants set up in 2007 in Udaipur district.
"Being a girl child is a curse in Rajasthan. They are left in the open to be mauled to death by stray dogs," says Devendra Agarwal, founder of the Maa Bhagwati Vikas Sansthan.
"It was one night three years ago that we got a call about Radha. She was found abandoned in the bushes. We reached the spot and rushed her to a hospital. She was saved after being treated for some months," Agarwal added.
Rajasthan, India's largest state in terms of area, is infamous for the killing of female infants as they are considered a liability in this highly patriarchal society which has a skewed sex ratio - 883 girls for 1,000 boys.
It is here that organisations like the Maa Bhagwati Vikas Sansthan step in by trying to save the girl child. Seeing the surge in female infanticide, Agarwal installed a cradle for the unwanted babies - mainly female infants.
Of 110 children, 94 have already been rehabilitated through adoption. Sixteen are being cared for at the centre that this correspondent visited.
It has five sections for different age groups including a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), which at present has four infants.
These four, each of whom weighs less than 2.5 kg, are dependent on mother's milk, which comes from the mother's milk bank also run by Maa Bhagwati Vikas Sansthan.
The NICU also has the facilities like phototherapy lights, pulse oximeter and nebuliser that are needed for the care of the infants.
There are 12 well-trained nurses on the premises to look after the infants.
"We have best facilities for the infants here. You go and find out what facilities are provided in government hospitals," said Vikas Shukla, who works at Mahesh Ashram.
There are separate sections for children aged below six months, between seven and 18 months, one-and-a-half years and three years, and three years and seven years, which has no child at present.
The entire premises is under CCTV surveillance and also has a proper firefighting system.
So, how did this all come about?
It was in 2006 when a spurt in female foeticides in Udaipur moved Agarwal and he decided to leave a flourishing marketing career to help save the girl child.
"I don't know what got into me. I decided to save infants who were abandoned. I installed a cradle at the doorstep of my house and within a month I got three children," Agarwal said.
"It was in 2007 that I managed to open Mahesh Ashram and installed a cradle here too. Since then we have been able to save 110 out of 120 girl children," he added.
"I want all my children (at Mahesh Ashram) to be rehabilitated, but some couples don't adopt them thinking they are illegitimate," Agarwal rued.
Holding Radha in his arms, Agarwal said: "Radha is the brightest child among all, but most people coming here to adopt look for a boy not a girl. If no one comes forward, I will raise her as my own."
(Gaurav Sharma can be contacted at email@example.com. This story is part of a National Media Fellowship awarded by the National Foundation for India in association with World Vision India) - IANS