By Saurabh Sharma and Azeem Mirza Apr. 13, 2017
When Neeta Newton, a nurse at Bahraich district hospital, first met the “Mowgli" girl, she would screech and bite. But Neeta knew this fight – to “humanise” her – would be a fight worth fighting.
Neeta Newton knew they had a new “abnormal” patient at the Bahraich district hospital, but she had no idea what state she was in. She also had no idea that the regular 9-6 existence that she was leading for the last five years, was going to change forever.
It was January 20. The nurses had been whispering among themselves; there were rumours that a police sub-inspector had found a young girl crawling on all fours with a band of mangy monkeys, among the sal and teak of the Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary nearby. Some were calling her a feral child, raised in the jungle by a pack of wolves like Mowgli. Others wondered if she was physically and mentally disabled and had been cast away by her family for that reason – or simply because she was a girl. Or maybe, she had been kidnapped and abandoned.
The first thought to cross Neeta’s mind was, how traumatised the child must be feeling. If she had been crawling in the forest, she must want to bolt from the alien environment she found herself now. Neeta, a staff nurse at the hospital, had spent enough time caring for patients to be familiar with the terror some patients feel upon finding themselves in a strange place. How was she reacting to people after being around animals for so long? Neeta had to go see her for herself.
She walked into the ward and was met with a sight she would never forget. A dazed child sat on the bed, completely naked. Her body was full of cuts and bruises and she was covered in dirt and what smelled like faeces. On the bed, she had emptied the daal-chawal that had been brought for her on a plate. If anyone came close to her, she would scream – but did not look like she could speak or communicate. In fact, she did not even know how to cry.
In that moment, Neeta didn’t care whether this was a feral child or an abandoned one. All she knew was, this was going to be the case that would change her life.
In the days that followed, the child would be put through several physical and psychological tests, which would reveal that she is about 11 years old. They would find that she had probably been existing on nothing more than fruit and nuts and would resist a regular meal. She would screech and scream at all the hospital staff, attacking them and running to bite them if they tried to touch her. But Neeta knew this fight – to “humanise” her – would be a fight worth fighting.
She was afraid of running water. But the bubbles from the soap lather brought her a bit of cheer.
For the little child had aroused 30-year-old Neeta’s motherly instinct. From a nameless child, she had gone to “Mowgli Girl” to “Van Durga” to “Ehsaas” – but for Neeta, she was like her own daughter.
In the months that followed, every day would be a challenge. Little Mowgli would resist everything, from clothes to food to any human interaction. On the second day that Neeta approached her with trepidation, to clean the wounds on her hands and legs, the child let out a sharp scream and bit her right hand and clawed at her. She would answer nature’s call like a baby, wherever she was, without warning.
In the initial days, Mowgli had to be kept in the isolation ward, because she attempted to escape the hospital thrice – she was completely fearless and the police had a hard time overpowering her. When she was shifted to the general ward, other patients, keen to watch the spectacle would gather around her, prompting her to scream like a monkey and hide under her bed. She had no use for toys – all she wanted was to be left alone.
But there was a small breakthrough on the day Neeta tried to bathe her for the first time. There was utter terror in the child’s eyes at first: She was afraid of running water. But the bubbles from the soap lather brought her a bit of cheer.
Their biggest challenge continued to haunt them through the next couple of months: Mowgli was unable to talk or sign or communicate at all. She was beyond sign language. But bit by bit, Neeta made a small connection with her.
One day, Mowgli was nowhere to be found. Neeta and her team thought she had escaped again. They searched everywhere, until Neeta was reduced to tears. Almost on cue, the child appeared from under the bed where she had been hiding all along, waiting for Neeta to find her. That was the first day she allowed Neeta to hug her. In the following days, Mowgli tried escaping the hospital again – only to catch a glimpse of Neeta and change her mind.
In the intervening months, Neeta nursed the child to health. She was far from alright, but things were getting better – one day at a time. But once the media got wind of the story, Mowgli would be caught in a whirlwind that would swoop her away from Neeta.
A man would surface out of nowhere, claiming to be Mowgli’s father. When he would be dismissed, an NGO would be assigned to take care of her. She would be taken away to Lucknow for better treatment at a bigger hospital. The Bahraich district hospital, that had found and nursed a child on the verge of certain death, would have no control over her fate.
As for Neeta, she would get ₹1,000 from the Chief Medical Officer as a token for taking such good care of Mowgli. But all that she would be left with were memories of a little child that she called her daughter.