Nargis Rahmat with three of the Afghan children in Calcutta. (Bibhash Lodh)
These children have travelled thousands of kilometres to reach Calcutta from distant parts of war-ravaged Afghanistan, in the hope that one day they will be able to walk.
A group of 18 children, seven girls and 11 boys, will be treated at Rehabilitation Centre For Children (RCFC) in Behala. Some of them will undergo surgery.
It will not be for injury from shell or mortar or shrapnel dug in their flesh. None of the children, all between four and 13, was hit by a weapon. But it was war that struck them.
Most of them suffer from cerebral palsy, which has taken away from them the ability to move their limbs, or speech. Others have clubfoot or suffer from rickets.
In the absence of health facilities and prenatal or neonatal care for children, and a severe lack of nutrition for mothers in impoverished families, numerous children in Afghanistan are being born with cerebral palsy or developing it or other disabilities later. "It is because of neglect," said Dr Somya Paik, visiting surgeon at RCFC.
Most children are delivered at home in the absence of hospital facilities.
The children who are in Calcutta were chosen with the help of ministry of labour, social affairs, martyrs and disabled in Afghanistan. They are accompanied by their mothers, and a feisty 24-year-old woman, Nargis Rahmat, who holds two bachelor's degrees, in finance and banking, and maths and science, but has devoted herself to work for the women and children in her country and reduce their helplessness.
Nargis travels to different parts of Afghanistan for her organisation Cultural and Empowerment Organisation for Afghans. The children are from several provinces. Some are from remote mountain areas. Some of them had not stepped out of their villages ever.
She could bring the children and their mothers to distant Calcutta, when in some places women stepping out of their households is also frowned upon, because the families "trust her", she said.
The children, many of them in wheelchairs, travelled by air from Kabul to Delhi and came to Calcutta by bus. "Because I wanted them to see the country," said Nargis, an SRK fan who speaks Hindi fluently, having picked it up from films.
Though the children will need long-term treatment, and they only have two-month visas, she is not worried about the renewal of visas so much, but about having to buy tickets again. "Everyone is jobless in Kabul," she says.
Two girls, Saifoora, 4, from the Kapisa province, and Mursal, 4, from Faryab, both of whom beautiful like flowers, suffer from cerebral palsy. Both will be operated on.
As Lali De of RCFC pointed out, the centre is fully equipped to deal with some of the children's problems. It has an OT, a physiotherapy centre, orthopaedic centre, a workshop to make prosthetic limbs, and a school, for children who come here often stay on for long. But financial resources remain a great problem, she stressed, as all treatment is provided free.
Started in 1973, the centre has treated 1,67,000 children so far from eastern India and neighbouring countries, will host Afghan children for the first time. But as Dr Paik reminded, the problem in Bengal, India or Afghanistan is really the same: it is that of malnutrition, poverty and lack of facilities, only made drastic by war.