Choice: child or community
Mother compelled to give up baby in Purulia
Purulia: A young tribal woman has said she had to give up her two-month-old child to be accepted back into the Santhal fold in Purulia, which forbids matrimony outside the community.
Abandoned by her husband, who belongs to another tribal community, the woman this week left the baby in the care of a policeman who runs a school for tribal children.
"Had I returned to my village with my baby, she would have been murdered as I had married an 'outsider'," said the mother.
"How could I let my baby be killed? I had heard about the school where tribal children, some of them orphans, are growing up. My child will be safe there."
The woman said she had made the policeman promise never to reveal to her daughter or anyone else who her mother was.
This newspaper could not obtain the version of the decision makers in the community. However, people familiar with tribal customs said the mother's account matched the practices followed by some tribal communities in Purulia.
The policeman corroborated the woman's account, adding that she went to him an afternoon with the swaddled baby.
"She narrated her plight. I checked and found out about her village," the constable said. He added that he had been told the baby would die if he refused to accommodate her in his school.
Having been on the run for months and then deserted by her husband, the woman had been incapable of fending for herself or her child. After entrusting the baby with the policeman, she returned to her parents' home.
The policeman said he would take care of the child.
"I have already given her a name. New clothes, feeding bottles and milk powder have been bought for her. She will grow up with the other children here," the policeman said.
The constable runs the primary school, which offers boarding facilities, for 110 Shabar children. The Shabars are one of the most backward and poor communities in Purulia.
The young woman had fallen in love with a young man from Bankura who used to work as a tractor driver.
"I am a Santhal and he is from another tribal community. But marriage in my society is accepted only if the couple are both Santhals," she said.
"A similar rule applies within my husband's community. Any couple who defy the rule are not allowed to live in the community."
The couple had married two years ago, and had to keep moving from one Shabar village to another. "My husband had some money. He paid some families and they allowed us to live in their huts," the woman said.
"We thought his family would accept the marriage, but they did not. I became pregnant. Four months ago, I woke up to find that my husband was not by my side. I searched the village but he was nowhere. I realised he had abandoned me."
Some Shabars stood by the pregnant mother. After she gave birth, they told her about the constable's school, where some of their children were studying too.
"The villagers told me my baby would be safe at the school because some of their children are living there. Their parents could not afford a square meal and education for them," she said.
Police said no official complaint had been lodged with them. "In these areas, tribal communities settle their issues in their own way. They hardly come to a police station to lodge a complaint," said an officer in Purulia.