Updated: May 5
According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), India is home to more than 11 million abandoned, orphaned girls. Families in India choose to abandon girl children due to reasons like gender discrimination or dowry system. In such a society, Ajay Jain with his sister and brother-in-law, puts in arduous efforts to make profound difference in lives of young girls at the Girls’ Home in Katni, Madhya Pradesh. Ruby Tyagi talks to him about establishing a Home where they accept abandoned girls and empower and nurture them into dignified women.
Young girls’ voices ring out, as high and clear as the sound of budgies. One can find them pulling each other’s pigtails while playing on the grounds outside the Little Star Children Home or they could be found feeding the horses, calves, and dogs who live there with the girls. Inside the Home, teenage and elderly girls are either studying or looking after other young girls. Or, they should be helping Dadi in preparing dinner for the entire family. Each girl is a reflection of Cinderella and we think this is why Ajay Jain calls them angels.
A sense of family is everything in this progressive Home, which Ajay Jain and his sister and brother-in-law run together in Katni, Madhya Pradesh. At the Home all the girls enjoy a real family experience that they were deprived of by their callous parents. Most of the Home’s inmates arrive here as hapless, barely alive foundlings, but they grow up into dignified women who have the courage to decide for themselves.
Q Tell us a little about how you instituted Little Star Children Home in Katni and how you got involved with child care. How do you think the Home invests in the future of the girls who stay there?
In India, the state of women, especially who come from underdeveloped cities, is distressing. Families often choose to abandon the girl child on the streets and to worsen, within the womb itself – terribly sad which is! Like this only, in 2005, my sister Dr. Sneh Choudhary and her husband Dr. Sameer Choudhary found a forsaken girl lying on one of the streets in Katni. They both picked her up and brought her home. That encouraged us to set up the Foundationto provide the abandoned angel children a chance to live with dignity, to study, to dream, and to grow up as responsible and recognizable citizens of India. We all swore to undo the wrong inflicted upon the helpless angel and upon many more angels like her.
Q What are the typical reasons why girl children are admitted to your shelter home? How challenging is it for the people at Home to comfort the girls who come from difficult situations or when any girl gets poignant or scared?
The reasons are very obvious such as people in rural to semi-urban areas still consider girls as a liability; they still believe that boys are successors to a family name while girls are seen as expenditure, especially when they would go on to continue with their husband’s family name. More poverty-stricken families are incapable of raising a girl child. Then, we sadly have cases of humiliation where either the girls are kidnapped and raped or abandoned after they become ‘useless’. We provide shelter to all such girls believing that they can be transformed into proud, dignified women, if provided with proper education and are fed and dressed like any normal child does. Though it is difficult in a sense that nurturing girls takes a lot of time and efforts. Then, we have to go through lengthy legal and compliance procedures, or through lack of financial support. Improving the girls’ mental outlook is another challenge that we face as sometimes girls take time to recover from traumatic experiences and move on.
Q How do you think the Home or, in fact, the government at large can help the abandoned girls to uplift themselves out of sombre situations or poverty or empower women more in the coming years?
I think the government can simplify adoption and compliance procedures and come up with plans that could provide employment benefits to such girls, once they are ready to enter the real world. We must take more stringent steps to eradicate dowry; it is already illegal, but yet needs to be uprooted from cities to the most deserted corners of the country. Severe punishment laws must be commissioned for female infanticide or, the government can, for example, declare concession on income tax, medical premiums, marriage expenses, or schooling for a girl child to lessen the financial burden of parents. Most importantly, I think work should be done to uproot and eradicate prostitution factories, because those are the markets that generate parallel demand for girl children.
Q Honestly, growing girls at shelter homes experience emotional loss. Even the volunteers who seek to build emotional bonds with the girls thinking that they may make difference to the girls’ lives, sometimes, lead to never-ending round of abandonment. Do you think the society needs to be concerned about this emotional damage? How can we ensure that visits from mission teams or volunteers are helping, more than hurting to the little girls?
To be honest, I personally believe that people who visit the shelter home help the angels get into mainstream society without putting too much effort and sometimes, in less time. The girls too start to trust people around them or have belief in humanity again. Though, I certainly would prefer to ensure that the girls’ privacy is respected. We must ask for their permission and reckon their willingness to meet outside people. They must have the right to choose, if they wish to allow someone to enter their homes or not. Simply like we expect our guests to call us and ask us, if we are comfortable with their visits, the girls too are entitled to allow people in their homes only when they wish to. According to me, “Homes don’t have public visiting hours, if they have, they are museums, not homes”.
Q At times, minor rape victims were also moved to the Home. How do you think the shelter homes, the States, and the agencies can come forward to ensure protection to girl children against any type of sexual or mental harassment?
Yes, some minor rape victims have been moved to our Home and we sincerely wish and pray that none of our angels have to go through any such tragic incidence in their lives. But sadly, most of the shelter homes are not facilitated to take care of victim girls. They need to be looked after by integrated care facility. We, personally, have partnered with government’s scheme Nirbhaya and have rescued many girls from traumatic backgrounds and have established them into mainstream society. I believe that we should work together in curbing down hideous crimes like rapes and in spreading awareness in children to accept and support rape victims as any other normal girls through education.
Q Shelter homes, no matter how comfortable they are, cannot be precise substitute for families. Families are paramount for a healthy adulthood. What orphanages can do to reunite girls with their own families or with adoptive families?
If we look around, there are many who crave for a child to infuse happiness in their deserted lives. I am sure as a country we are not short of good people or families who want to adopt them, but the only challenge is to make a right match. There can’t be a warranted solution, but yes, things like proper background checks, observatory periods, and matching behavioral assessments of family members to those of the child, can be in introduced to find a fair match. However, sometimes things don’t turn out to be that rosy. Human behavior can’t be pre-judged; it’s only with time you get to know if an effort made will prove fruitful or not, so that’s a part of the game. Above all I believe shelters’ effort in this direction should only be confined until these girls reach their adulthood. Past the age of 18 they should be allowed to decide for themselves like even if they want to stay single throughout their lives, such a decision should be respected.
Q Most shelter homes do not have reintegration programs for their children. Especially girls at shelter homes find it difficult to adapt to community life and find their place in the society after they finish their education or become adults. How do you think these programmes can be enhanced further to ensure better future and dignified lives for the girls?
I will give you an example of what we do at our Home. We have been successfully implementing this technique for long now. Sports and keeping pet animals, we think, are two ways through which girls can be encouraged to reintegrate with the society out there. See, most of the angels, who come to stay with us, stop believing in good or keep no trust in humanity. By encouraging them to spend time with pet animals that we have at the institution, we enforce positivity in their personalities. When the girls attend school or classes for activities such as dance, arts, or cooking or when they are given the best possible training for sports like karate, horse riding, or boxing, they quickly integrate into mainstream society.
Q Lastly, despite all the hardships that any girl may face either at the institution or after leaving the place, aren’t there some successful cases? How do you feel when a girl of your institution dreams bigger and, in fact, achieve those, when any girl from your shelter home goes ahead and wins medals at the State or National levels?
None of our bio kids have won any medals at national or state levels or stages, but many angels of our Home have won hundreds of medals and awards in different arenas. So, in many ways we are proud of them and in fact, our angels are helping us live beautiful lives instead of us helping them in little ways.