Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views, Issue no. 7 March-April 2001


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The Story of Archana: in search of her place in the world

By Anuradhua Mohit (nab@vsnl.com)

One sunny afternoon of November 1998, I received a phone call from a lady who had earlier been introduced to me by a common friend. The lady was more than anxious to learn about educational prospects for blind children. On learning that young children with blindness could go to a kindergarten at the neighborhood school, she became more curious to learn as to how this was possible. I invited her to Delhi so that she could observe some preschool programs for young blind children in order to have all her curiosities sated.

A week later, an extremely charming lady with a rich radiance all around her, entered my office. She was certainly full of life and was so open that I felt she would soon unload all that she had on her mind. So I sat back listening and she started rattling on all about a short, chubby, flat nosed girl dressed in a lovely pink frock. This was Archana, one of the children from an orphanage called 'Sahil', meaning 'the shore'. The lady, Mrs. Khan, was the founding member and managing trustee of this orphanage at Allahabad, which is about 500 kms south of Delhi. Mrs. Khan told me that in `Sahil', they earlier had two girls with disabilities who, in the recent past were adopted by parents from Holland and Spain. However, Mrs. Khan said, she would like to adopt this little blind girl herself. Mr. and Mrs. Khan are respected industrialists of the country having their own well-settled children.

Archana's story begins
Now begins the story of Archana. She had lost her mother soon after her birth and her alcoholic father died when Archana was a year and a half old. Archana and her elder sister both were left at the mercy of aunts and uncles who themselves could manage barely 2 square meals a day. The elder sister of Archana was married off at the age of 11 and Archana at the age of 2 was made to beg. All of this Archana remembers vividly even today.

Mr. and Mrs. Khan after taking custody of Archana in the foster home 'Sahil', started taking care of her to the extent that Archana slept in their room, on their bed, with them. Mrs. Khan would even wash Archana herself when wet or soiled which she had never done for her own children, as they had had nannies to look after them.

In a period of 6 months, Archana's environs was transformed to that of an elite Hindi backed with all the social graces and courtesies expected from a child of such a genteel class.

At the end of the two days observation of the pre-school programme, Mrs. Khan decided to leave Archana in the preparatory school of the National Association for the Blind, since this was the only pre-school which prepared children for admission into private exclusive schools. It was also decided that Archana would later be sent to one of the top schools befitting her status.

The Interview
"My name is Archana Khan. I am 5 years old".
And then, she added that she had two brothers and three sisters. (The two brothers and two of the sisters are the children of the Khans and the 3rd sister is Archana's real sister whom she had not met until after joining the Khan's household). Archana also said that her father had died of drinking bad alcohol.

The whole day Archana kept on asking me to take her in my lap. In fact, she insisted that she would have her food sitting in my lap or else she wouldn't touch a thing. Archana showed me her favorite toys and also her favorite clothes, which she had brought from the Khan's.

The following morning I went straight to the children's dorm to find little Archana. Here I found her surrounded by children and she, like a princess was sitting on a chair and her peers were helping her with her socks and shoes. I picked Archana up in my arms, which suddenly brought a big smile to her face. Immediately she said, "my brother picks me up the same way". "Who's this brother", I asked. She replied, "Aslam Khan Bhai", (Khans' eldest son).

Archana settles in
That summer vacation, Archana and I travelled together to her home where I spent 2 days with the Khans and Archana. She was so confident and familiar with the entire length and all the corners of the large mansion of the Khans. She recognised each person of the family by their voice. The whole platoon of workers, bairas, chauffeurs, gardeners, and guards were known to this little princess of 6. For the 1st time Archana told me how much she disliked sleeping in the dorm without an air conditioner. Her dissatisfaction over the meals was natural, since Archana's favorites are meat and cakes, food the blind children in the dorm of the pre-school never get the chance to know about!

Complications
Archana was rapidly picking up all she needed to learn for going to the school and we were satisfied with her performance. Then, one day Mrs. Khan again called and anxious again but this time it was to know if we could arrange for Archana to go to an orphanage in Delhi! She was most anxious to enquire of Archana's prospects of being adopted by a good couple living in the developed world. I again invited her to Delhi, this time not on an observation trip but simply to convince her to retain Archana in her foster care. Six year old Archana could not afford to lose two sets of parents and two sets of siblings. Her chubby shoulders were not strong enough to support such a burden, I explained to Mrs. Khan. The reason she gave for a change of heart was a realisation that they were ageing fast and they could not handle a small girl's responsibilities now!

Disillusionment
Though the Khans have made up their minds, I am still hoping that my assurance of looking after Archana's school and college education in a boarding school might win Archana her home back. At the same time the Khan's visits to Delhi are kept secret from Archana who's now 7 years old. Archana met me last Saturday on my visit to The National Association of the Blind (NAB). Clinging to my hand, she enquired if I had heard from her parents or brother Aslam. She told me that she feels scared. Maybe in her view they are not alive, because while little Archana has experienced the death of parents, she is yet innocent as to the indifference of her new parents.

Does she know that not one, not two, she may soon have 3 sets of parents!

Does she know that she does not belong?


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