The custody battle over the child of a mentally ill woman has shown that immense political clout can deprive a mother of her most valuable property. Even as a Bollywood director who uses his clout to keep his foster child, the birth mother longs for the baby. Only proactive intervention by society can resolve this stressful matter, writes the winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award DR. BHARAT VATWANI.
A pretty spicy situation has arisen with a baby. On September 17, 2019, the Borivali Railway Police referred a mentally ill woman, Madhavi (name changed to protect identity), to us. The woman, around 30, had a young boy with her who appeared to have been physically beaten by her and had several wounds on his body.
Despite the law that a breastfeeding child must not be separated from the mother, this has happened. The child was picked up by the railway police and given to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in Mumbai. Madhavi was admitted to the Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation’s Karjat Center, which has reunited 7,349 mentally ill people with their families since its inception.
Torn between two families
CWC placed the child in foster care through the Family Service Center (FSC). Apparently he was placed first with a family and later with a wealthy family.
On November 4, 2019, FSC asked us for a medical status report from Madhavi. During that time she had improved quickly. We gave a medical and psychiatric fitness certificate and informed FSC that Madhavi longed for her child and that if she were separated from him, it could worsen her depression. For psychiatric reasons, it was advisable to reunite her with him at the earliest. We also informed FSC that Madhavi’s relatives from her village in Bihar made a daily video call with her and were ready to take her and the child home.
The foster family of a well-known director felt very attached to the baby and did not want to part with him. When the matter was due to be heard by CWC members, the director kept powerful politicians on phone calls in hopes that they would make a decision in his favor to have the child.
From December 3, 2019 to January 14, 2020, Madhavi was sent (per standard protocol) by Shraddha to the psychiatric ward at Nair Government Hospital and underwent medical monitoring on multiple occasions before receiving a fitness certificate.
In the meantime, correspondence took place between FSC Mumbai, CWC Mumbai and CWC Arrah, which includes Madhavis Village.
On November 4, 2020, FSC Mumbai finally wrote a letter to Madhavi’s father to take the child away. Finally, on November 22nd, he came to Mumbai from Arrah.
Emotional ties are not easy to break
The foster family of a well-known and well-connected Bollywood director was now pretty tied to the baby and did not want to part with him. When the matter was due to be heard by CWC members, the director had some powerful politicians call them non-stop in hopes that they would make a decision in his favor to have the child.
On November 24, 2020, the CWC asked us to have Madhavi and her child DNA tested at JJ Hospital. The necessary was done. On December 1, 2020, during the CWC hearing, the director brought political representatives (including an MLA), as well as a journalist and a lawyer. Nevertheless, the CWC held its own and did not give in under the immense pressure.
After the hearing, which lasted over three hours, the CWC gave its judgment, albeit orally, that the rightful place for the child was with the birth mother and that it should be returned to Madhavi.
The CWC ordered the police present to physically separate the child from the foster family and place them in Asha Sadan, a government-run orphanage. They gave the FSC a memo that the child was not in their hands and asked the social worker Farzana Ansari, who was present during the trial, to come along with Madhavi and the railway police a few days later to pick the child up. That same night, police went to Asha Sadan, took the child, and returned it to the director’s family. The child has been with them ever since.
Political clout and muscles
The turbulence doesn’t end here. On December 2, 2020, a CWC member called Farzana Ansari and mentioned that the process of handing the child over to the birth mother may be derailed and the decision could go either way. It appeared that under immense political pressure, their independent functioning was gradually being compromised and suspended. They were deeply concerned about the turning point of events and conveyed real fear about it.
Madhavi’s biological family is simple and innocent. Madhavi has been in our Karjat center for more than a year. All of her relatives keep asking about her and the child and waiting for her to return. She herself has improved tremendously, and has an innocent vulnerability and simplicity, the hallmark of mothers in rural India and a quality that leads one to believe that the meek will inherit the earth. One has to bow one’s head to such innocence and naivete.
We have all legal documents including one from her village of Pradhan and the police station showing that she left the village with her child.
Madhavi has improved tremendously with an innocent vulnerability and simplicity, the hallmark of mothers in rural India and a quality that leads one to believe that the meek will inherit the earth. One has to bow one’s head to such innocence and naivete.
The Borivali Railway Police recorded that Madhavi was breastfeeding the child at the station. We also recorded that she was breastfeeding even in the Karjat Center.
There are fears that the entire process will be hijacked by political and financial clout. Only proactive intervention by society can resolve the matter for the benefit of Madhavi and her family.
The ethical and moral questions here are: Can a child be separated from its birth mother just because it comes from a poverty-stricken family in a village? Can a birth mother be deprived of her right to motherhood just because she is a victim of a psychiatric illness?
Appeal to the CWC
On November 30, 2020, I wrote an appeal to the CWC. I quote from the last paragraph: “… the greatest possessions for every mother are the offspring born to her. Whether the person is rich or poor, educated or illiterate, this creation of life in the mother’s life is truly and uniquely her own joy. Many of you must be women and mothers. You will understand my feelings and empathize with them. And for us in Shraddha (and for all of you at CWC) that joy could be returned to the mother who has been separated from her child for over a year. This could be the happiest moment of our life. ”
“… The greatest possessions for every mother are the offspring born to her. Whether the person is rich or poor, educated or illiterate, this creation of life in the mother’s life is truly and uniquely her own joy. “
I reminded them of the teachings of Krishna in the Bhagwat-Gita, of Lord Ram in the Ramayana, of Buddha’s teachings, of Mahavir Jain’s Jainism, of the sermons of Jesus in the Bible and of the Koran of the Prophet Mohammad. Bringing about a mother’s reunion with her child would be a kind of transition to heaven for all of us, I believe.
Courtesy of Bharat Vatwani
I added, “As I write this letter, it is Guru Nanak’s birthday today. This philosophy of doing good for the mother-child bond is also contained in his teachings. On the one hand, I set everything in the old ways and their teachings. And I have immense and implicit trust in all of you at the CWC. You will stand by Madhavi and her naturally born child. ”
I hope my prayers for this innocent mother and child will be answered.
(Dr. Bharat Vatwani is the founding trustee of the Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation, an NGO for the mentally ill. He received the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2018. The views expressed here are personal.)