Inadmissible Infants

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As Kashmir witnesses increased abandoning of newborn babies, the recent incidence of parents leaving ‘Baby Unknown’ at the mercy of dogs outside a Srinagar hospital was bone-chilling. While the cases are growing the reaction by the ‘so-called’ conservative society is yet to start, reports Tasavur Mushtaq

As Kashmir shivered at -4 degrees during the intervening night of January 23 and 24, a pack of dogs were fighting, over a plastic bag, in the premises of valley’s major maternity hospital the Lal Ded. Desperate to take it away, a cry from inside the bag shocked the people around. It was a day old baby’s cry, whom his parents had shrouded in polythene and thrown in the dustbin. Fighting suffocation, assault and the bone-chilling cold, the baby had cried his heart out to reach the ears of the hospital staff.

In a quick reaction, as the hospital rushed towards the garbage dumping site, they found a baby surrounded by dogs. Rescued with difficulty, the dogs had nibbled him badly.

Mauled and bruised by the dogs, the cold-hardened tender body was splattered with the blood of his mother’s womb. The umbilical cord was still intact. Quickly, the baby landed in hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

“It was heart-wrenching to see a newborn surrounded by dogs with severe dog bites,” a hospital worker told Kashmir Life. “Only God knows what has happened to us.”

Doctors treating the baby said his condition was critical. “The dogs have disfigured his scalp and face area. We had to put him on antibiotics and anti-rabies medicines,” hospital’s Medical Superintendent, Dr Nazir Ahmad Malik said. “ A plastic surgeon was also called to fix the occipital region of his head.” Police have registered a case and are looking for the parents. The baby has not a name so let us call him ‘Baby Unknown’.

Dr Malik said his hospital had two more unclaimed female babies admitted in just one week.  “They too were found abandoned in the hospital premises but are stable, without any complications,” he said. The first of the babies was traced on January 14 near the hospital ramp and another on January 17, just outside the labour room, both in the dead of night. Apparently, the babies were delivered at home.

The instances, though not unprecedented, shocked Kashmir. Quickly, it led to the “moral debate” on social networking websites.

 “During the dead of the night, amidst the dogs howling, a cry of a baby was heard in the backyard of LD Maternity Hospital, Srinagar. An inquisitive employee found the pack of dogs pouncing on a baby,” Dr Muhammad Salim Khan, Associate Professor and Head Community Medicine GMC Srinagar, wrote on his FB wall. “Reaching there, a day-old male-baby with umbilical cord intact, macerated by dogs was found dumped. The child was immediately taken to neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) inside LD Hospital and is under treatment. In 3 successive days, three newborns, (including two girls) were dumped in this hospital. SOCIETY WITH LOST VALUES.”

“I thought God was wondering today, are the same creatures whom I send on Earth????,” reacted Dr Basharat H Shah, Consultant Pediatrician & Neonatologist at GMC Srinagar. “Obviously, I thought the first case reported in medical literature, a dog bite in one day old newborn.”

Abandoning of newborn babies is a societal crisis in Kashmir, Mushtaq Ahmad, an old city resident said. “These could be legal and illegitimate but the challenge is the same and managing them is not simple.” Dr Salim said though the trend is nothing new the only difference is that social media highlights these recoveries quite fast. “These babies are mostly born out of wedlock,” he believes.

Earlier, such babies were found abandoned at the shrines.  The recent was Salman, who was found at the shrine of Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom (RA) in February 2016. Taken to GB Panth Hospital, Salman was admitted by police station Nowhatta in hypothermic condition. Diagnosed with Encephalocele root of the nose with left Porencephalic Cyst, Dr Salim believes, Salman was left because of his medical condition.

Burhan was another case, who apparently, was abandoned by his parents for the requirement of “constant care.” Diagnosed with Hypoxic Brain Injury, a condition that arises due to lack of oxygen supply to the brain and other organs, Burhan was left in Ward 8 of G B Panth hospital in February 2016.

Both Burhan and Salman recently were adopted by a person, running an NGO at a local level. Since the hospitals lack an inbuilt system for such cases, they are given out for adoption through a due legal process. In certain cases, couples find faults post-adoption and return the babies.

The flipside of the tragedy is that the society has countless childless couples who spend millions of rupees to parent a baby! “This is all in the hands of Allah, we are desperate to have one, even though people are abandoning many in dustbins,” Irshada, a hopeful mother told Kashmir Life. Married for eight years, she is unable to conceive after a couple of abortions initially.

In 2011, a girl child was abandoned by her biological parents after they detected her cleft lip, a condition surgically treated. A childless couple adopted the baby, conducted a minor surgery and now she is the source of their joy.

“Childless couples are waiting for abandoned babies and in most of the cases they are being adopted within weeks’ time,” said Dr Salim.

Nature is managing some sort of demand and supply chain even at this front as well. But the crisis is which way the humanity is going in this part of the world.  “I remember once a baby was found in a toilet in North Kashmir,” regrets Dr Shakeel-ur-Rehman.

But why is it happening? Many attribute it to growing immorality. “How to explain this kind of situation where society has made Nikkah increasingly prohibitive affair leading to promiscuity which is patronised officially!,” netizen Farooq Ahmad wrote on his FB wall. “Such horrendous incidents will continue to take place as long as our society does not follow the basic tenets of Islam.”

“See we have been subjected to collective degradation at the entire societal level,” Dr Iqbal, a KAS officer, said. “Where you see we are growing in a positive way as a society. See our children how arrogant they are. Our way of doing business. The corruption in the system. The lavish lifestyle. And what not.”

While the debate about why it is happening will fill terabyte space on websites, the real question is how to manage this load, though not huge, but a consistent one. In last 30 months, two major hospitals in Srinagar got 16 such babies. Dr Salim said there is no proper mechanism for managing such children either at the government level or in society. “We have around 5000 NGO’s working in Kashmir and they deal with soft issues. Nobody bothers to work on this as this is a strenuous area but serious concern of our society,” Salim said. “There always is a possibility of some babies not being adopted by anybody.”

In case of the two female babies, hospital sources said some people have approached them for adoption. But it will take some time because it involves a legal process.

In June 2017, a Srinagar Court gave custody to a couple of an infant female abandoned in June, same year at LD Hospital. As police registered FIR, many childless couples approached for the custody. The court received applications from more than 15 couples and finally, after recording the statements of five couples with respect to their education and financial capability, Chief Judicial Magistrate Massarat Shaheen handed over custody to a Srinagar-based couple, who together earn more than Rs 1 lakh a month. Before taking over, the couple had to deposit Rs 5 lakh as security for the baby. The record reveals in last 18 months, Court has granted custody of five abandoned babies to different couples.

Admitted in NICU, in the meanwhile, the latest reports reveal that ‘Baby Unknown’ is doing better!

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