She sits in a corner at Sanlaap’s recreation room, wearing a bright lilac sari, flashy imitation jewellery and a red watch.
In her lap are her two children — a boy and a girl, the elder not more than six years old. Gayatri Devi says she can read and write a bit and can cook well.
Two years ago, she had overslept during a train journey and reached Burdwan instead of her original destination. That’s how she landed up at the Gurap home for women in Hooghly, shut down recently amid horror tales of torture, sexual assault and murder.
“I was visiting my aunt’s house to attend a wedding with my children and my brother-in-law, who was 10 years old,” said Gayatri.
“We were returning to my village in Bhagalpur when I fell asleep in the train. I missed the station where we had to change trains. When I woke up, I found I had reached Burdwan and that my brother-in-law was missing.”
Gayatri claims she had given the police a contact number and told them the names and addresses of her husband and father-in-law. She mentions a village in Bhagalpur that sounds like “Janitighogha”.
“No effort was made to find them or send me home. Instead, I was sent to Gurap, where I have lived so long with the other inmates, many of whom were mentally challenged, destitute or deaf and mute. I used to cook for them,” she says with resignation in her voice.
Since the home’s closure, Gayatri has been living in Sanlaap’s shelter.
“Since she used to cook there, we wanted to employ her for the same task. But the other residents of our home objected. They think that all the women from Gurap are mentally challenged. The other inmates consider them dirty,” said Indrani Sinha, head of Sanlaap.
Like Gayatri, hundreds languish in various shelter homes in the state, clueless when they might be reunited with their families.
“The government should at least have some kind of identity card, ration card or action plan for them,” says Baitali Ganguly of Jabala Action Research Organisation.
“They don’t even want to be part of these women’s self-rehabilitation efforts when their families can’t be located or won’t accept them. Locating an inmate’s home takes time and costs money. It’s not fair to keep them locked in a shelter home indefinitely.”
“When can I go home?” asks Gayatri.