Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Daughter of the Soul

Her name, Atmaja, is Sanskrit for Daughter of the Soul. It is a name that the doctors at the SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack, Orissa, India, have given her. Her biological parents have neither the time nor the inclination to look for a name for her. They are too busy shrugging off parentage, disclaiming her, disowning her.

Born on March 30, 2012, Atmaja was born around the same time as another baby, a boy. However, when hospital staff presented the little baby to her father, she did not receive the treatment that fathers of newborn babies customarily offer to their young. No hands caressed her tenderly; no lips laid a sweet kiss on her forehead. No eyes crinkled in delight at the sight of her cute little feet and no mouth gaped in sheer awe at the miracle of perfection that is a baby.

Instead, Susanta Mallick and his wife Rashmita alleged that they were the rightful parents of the baby boy and that this baby girl was swapped by the incompetent hospital staff. The couple went on to say that the other woman, Nirupama Mallick, and her husband Sukanta Mallick of Jajpur district were in fact the parents of the baby girl. Refusing to acknowledge Baby Atmaja as their own, Susanta and his wife insisted on a paternity test and, when that was refused, went on to file a petition in Orissa High Court.

On April 24, the court directed that the two mothers who had delivered at nearly the same time and the two babies under dispute should undergo a DNA test to ascertain the parentage of the child. Blood samples of the four were dispatched to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory at Hyderabad under the supervision of a court official. While the jury was out, Baby Atmaja waited for the mother that would not come.

Two months later the results were revealed. Report: Inconclusive evidence. The genetic scientists at the laboratory were unable to give a conclusive DNA report based on the blood samples of the two mothers and the baby. A positive result would have allowed the little one to see her rightful home for the first time. The inconclusive result meant a return to the hospital, pending a resolution of the case. It was detention of a different kind.

The laboratory informed the Orissa High Court that the blood samples of both the contesting fathers would be required to make an accurate analysis about Atmaja’s parentage. This stage of the examination was delayed further as it was revealed that Susanta Mallick, the man who had filed the case in court, had only lately gone to Dubai where he worked. Apparently, he would not be able to return to India for another six months. The other father, Sukanta Mallick, was working in Kolkata. Relatives of both men filed affidavits in court to state that it would not be possible for them to return to Cuttack to give their blood samples.

Even as this extended game of tug-of-war plays on, Baby Atmaja continues to stay at the hospital. For four months now, Atmaja has been living there, deprived of a mother’s love and care. At an age when other more fortunate babies are suckling greedily and contentedly at their mother’s breasts and reveling in the warm comfort that is a mother’s embrace, this poor little child goes without. She has never known even a moment of love. Her lips have never tasted her mother’s milk.

She is not without surrogate mothers, of course. The hospital, charged by the high court to look after the little one until the matter is resolved, has sheltered the baby in its special neonatal care unit. Two beds were removed to accommodate the baby and her crib. She also received the vaccinations and immunization as per schedule.

What she didn’t receive is the one thing that no baby should go without: a mother’s love. I strongly urge you to read this article when you have the time, but for those who don’t, I will offer a gist. The article says that there is a growing body of scientific evidence to support a truth that mothers have always known instinctively. The way babies are cared for by their mothers affects their emotional development and the biological development of their brain and central nervous system. Writer Cory Young says, “Mother’s love acts as a template for love itself and has far reaching effects on her child’s ability to love throughout life.” The article goes on to say that “Hugs and kisses during these critical periods make those neurons [in the central nervous system] grow and connect properly with other neurons. You can kiss that brain into maturity.”

Newborns, says Young, are born expecting to be loved, kissed, cuddled, even licked. Even animal mothers know that. In fact, James W Prescott, one of Young’s sources reveals, “The easiest and quickest way to induce depression and alienation in an infant or child is not to touch it, hold it, or carry it on your body.”

Fortunately, none of that negativity will touch Atmaja’s life. Nurses and attendants are working round-the-clock, struggling gamely to meet her needs as best as they can. Other mothers of newborns give in to their newfound maternal instincts and nurse the little one out of a sense of sympathy and compassion.

Little Atmaja is a healthy baby and growing well. Her smiles and gurgles have earned her a special place in the hearts of all those around her. Apart from the nurses and attendants who are her constant companions 24x7, she has also become the darling of visiting medical students and the doctors who pamper and cuddle her. Staff members have brought in toys for her. Incidentally, the district administration is providing funds from the Red Cross Society for her care and feeding.

But there must be some instinct in human beings even when they are babies. Despite being well looked after by the nurses, Baby Atmaja’s eyes search the faces of those around her for that one face that Nature has ordained she will instantly recognize. But the parents, despite being genetically wired to love their own offspring, aren’t in a hurry to oblige and continue to hanker after the baby boy. And why not? Don’t they live in a culture where the peda, irrespective of type, price and quality, ranks higher in the pantheon of Indian sweets than the barfi?

The Orissa High Court has now taken a tough stance to resolve this row. On July 17, the court refused to order any more blood samples and ruled that the laboratory must draw a conclusion about the parentage from the blood samples available to them. While that is good news because it spells an end to the dispute, the eventual resolution of the contest also worries me.

What happens when the laboratory comes to a conclusion and releases conclusive findings with regard to parentage? Will the Mallicks recover lost ground? Will they acknowledge the treasure that is a daughter? Will they get a glimpse of the joy that a little girl can bring into life? Will they be able to show the baby all the affection and love and tenderness that has been her right and due? Will they give that love grudgingly? Will it be as easy as turning on a tap?

Most likely, not. We are a nation that famously worships its female deities but disowns its daughters. Oscar Wilde was right when he said, “How strange a thing this is! The Priest telleth me that the Soul is worth all the gold in the world, and the merchants say that it is not worth a clipped piece of silver.”

I don’t know how this drama will play out. For her sake, I pray that Atmaja may grow up to be a kind, generous and wonderful woman, a spectacular human being. I pray that she may suffer no issues of self-esteem on account of having been abandoned by her own parents for nearly four months.

I pray that her little brain may cherish the love she is receiving from the most unlikely sources and thrive upon that love.
Above all, I pray that she may live up to her name and be a true Daughter of the Soul, even though the stock that she hails from lacks that precious ore.


  1. Geez, I cannot believe this! Girls are, and you can take me to court on this, as naughty as boys, as funny as boys, as loving as boys, and as they grow older, most of them tend to be, learn to be, more hardworking than boys. Any idea which set of parents is taking care of the baby boy?

  2. Hi Ahalya,
    I agree with you completely, and I pity the sorry excuses of human beings who think that having a daughter is a curse. Nirupama Mallick and her husband, the non-disputing set of parents, took the boy home in early April when they were discharged by the hospital. It is poor Atmaja who has not yet been released. Am ready to post the second part of this drama.



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