Smiles after sorrows: Bharti enjoys her day at school
By Aditi Tandon
INDIA, Chandigarh, 27 September 2006 – The day at school is long over. But Bharti, 12, is in no hurry to leave. She has some reading to do. The last test she took was fine, but not good enough. This time she must work harder to outdo her peers, who tease her for being the eldest in class and for not having a proper home.
But Bharti takes no offence to their remarks. She has a big heart – big enough to forgive her friends their casual indifference to her condition. They hardly know where she comes from or why she left home. Only Aashu, 9, Bharti’s best friend, knows things about her past.
Bharti had a poor, broken family and her mother, a domestic help, used to assault her with a kitchen knife and pour boiling water over her head. The provocation was often as petty as Bharti’s inability to attend to household chores properly.
Scars of physical and verbal assaults are still fresh on Bharti’s soul. Her mutilated face and body tell the tale of violence she suffered for years at her mother’s hands. “My mother hated me playing with children or attending school. She was always angry with me but not with my siblings, ” says Bharti, her eyes fraught with pain and fear.
The child’s brief was clear: “Baby sit your younger brother and sister. Clean up the house, wash utensils and cook food.” By the time Bharti’s mother returned from the day’s work, food should have been laid and assigned tasks executed. A negligence in “duty” meant serious trouble.
Her mother would punch her, kick her and hit her head against a wall till she bled. A dose of verbal and physical violence had become routine for Bharti. Then one day, all hell broke loose.
Bharti fights back
It was 20 October two years ago. The day had dawned dull and gray. Soon after her mother left for the day’s work, Bharti felt a desire to meet with the friends she had made on the sly. So she hurried up with household jobs and fed her siblings before going out. Little did she know her desire would prove life threatening for her.
“I was missing my father that day. He used to bring me sweets and give me rides in his rickshaw. But mother fell out with him. He left us and never returned. I had gone out to play and had forgotten to cook food,” Bharti shivers at the memory of the fateful day.
Soon her worst fears came true. Enraged, her mother attacked her with a set of kitchen scissors. She inflicted potentially fatal wounds on the child’s scalp and forehead, gagged her and was about to strangulate her when Bharti retaliated with all her might. “I pushed her back, locked her from outside and ran away,” the child stammers as she puts her pain together.
Chain of strength: Bharti (in front) with her friends Raju, Aashu and Sridevi at school.
Bharti books mother for assault
Desperate for help, a profusely bleeding Bharti reached the local police station of the slum colony. She was accompanied by a colony-based social worker Ms Suman Gupta, who called up the toll-free Childline phone service 1098 for assistance. The service, initiated under an Indian government scheme, helps children in distress.
In no time, Childline volunteers were on the spot. They helped the police record Bharti’s testimony, based on which her mother Santara Devi was booked for criminal assault. The volunteers also met with the mother. She blamed her behaviour on poverty, but by then it was too late. Bharti had made up her mind to abandon her mother forever. She was too agonized to consider compromise.
The child was rushed to Post Graduate Institute of Medical Research (PGIMER) at Chandigarh.,
Road to recovery
At the Advanced Pediatric Centre of PGIMER, the specialists were shocked at the extent of Bharti’s injuries. Medical test revealed visible marks of scratches and deep lesions on her scalp. She was placed in emergency care where she took a week to stabilize. Post-recovery, she told doctors she did not want to go back home, ever again.
The child had taken the decision of a lifetime. And in her struggle, she got support from Member, Chandigarh Child Welfare Committee Ms Madhu Singh. Inspired by Bharti’s courage to fight back, Ms Singh ensured she went into safe hands – those of the state.
Now Bharti lives at Bal Niketan, a state-aided shelter home in Chandigarh. She is still on medication and counseling. But she is adjusting well. Like other inmates, she too is attending school.
Only she has been enrolled in Class II, the basic grade. And she is the eldest in her class for obvious reasons. “But that’s immaterial,” insists Bharti’s class teacher Ms Malik Kaur: “Bharti is bright. She has the zeal to live and she learns her lessons well.” But lessons of life are harder learnt that those in class.
Any time soon, Bharti will have to appear before the court to testify against her mother in the case of criminal assault. She has recounted her horrors several times over without changing her version.
She will have to recount them one more time. And this time it may not be easy. But Bharti is determined to fight this last battle of dignity with her mother, and win it too.