The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Surgery on a girl’s misery
- Victim of burns and traffickers, Marina looks at new life

Calcutta, Aug. 26: Even in this nation of the unfortunate, few have suffered Marina’s miseries.

When Marina Khatun was two, she sustained such severe burns in an accidental fire that her torso and arms got deformed.

A year later, her deformity caught the attention of child traffickers who thought she could be put to use in begging and smuggled her out of Calcutta to Saudi Arabia to make money for them on the streets of holy Mecca. “A lot of people would take pity and give me money as alms, which the bad men who had taken me to that place would force me to give up. My days and nights in Mecca were a nightmare,” recounted Marina.

For two years from 1994, she begged there. She was not alone.

Marina returned to Calcutta as part of an alarmingly large group of 364 young boys and girls who were rescued from there at the intervention of humanitarian agencies and the Saudi government, which took pity on maimed Indian children.

Since 1996, Marina has been living in homes for destitute children in the south Bengal district of Murshidabad and at Madhyamgram, about 25 km from Calcutta.

Today, you might have caught her praying, her eyes shut, to Allah for strength ' not to bear with more misfortune but to be able to suffer the temporary pain a surgeon’s knife could cause.

On Saturday, Marina will leave her Madhyamgram shelter and get admitted to a south Calcutta nursing home to undergo the first of four planned skin-grafting sessions to be carried out by a plastic surgeon.

Another little girl in faraway Minneapolis, Lydia Berger, has made it possible for her to have the surgery, with help from several others.

“The poor child will require four sittings every three months,” said Shankar Chatterjee who will do the skin-grafting.

“Her arms got stuck to the sides following the burning. We will first free her arms so that she can move them like a normal person and take it from there one at a time,” he said.

For nine years, Marina lived in homes run by Free the Children India. Swapan Mukherjee, the chairman of the Calcutta-based NGO, said: “We saved quite a few boys and girls who seemed completely at sea when they first arrived, and among them we found this small girl who could barely identify herself as Marina.”

A few years ago, Alex Crittendent, a social worker from Minneapolis, visited the home where Marina was staying.

“It is a pity that such a little girl had to endure so much pain. I will try to help her,” Alex told The Telegraph.

After getting back to the US, Alex got in touch with non-government organisations. Soon Lydia got to know of Marina and started raising money for her.

The news that Lydia has been able to raise $1,500 spread to other parts of the US and the ears of Ranjan Dutta Gupta, IBM Corporation’s senior director (executive) in Atlanta with roots in Bengal. He, too, joined in the fund-raising.

“In June this year, when I was in Bengal I met Marina and was moved to see her. To me, Marina is a representative of thousands of luckless, suffering children who need our support,” Dutta Gupta said from Atlanta.

Sadly, support in India was lacking. Mukherjee said that after Marina was taken to the children’s home, “she began to learn and read and attend school, but with her hand movement restricted, she was suffering”.

The home authorities tried to organise the surgery but failed.

Tomorrow, the series of surgeries starts to reconstruct her body. Possibly, her life too.

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