Karishma’s Grandmother tried to Kill Her: Her Story
This has been one of the most heart-breaking cases for The 50 Million Missing Campaign. Karishma was born a cesarean baby in December 2008. Her birth infuriated her paternal grandmother. She angrily announced, “A girl! I am going to put salt in her mouth and kill her!”
There are millions of little girls under the age of 6 years who are killed in India through deliberate neglect, starvation, violence and often premeditated murder. They are killed with undisguised vengeance simply for being born as girls. Click here for our post on ‘What’s Killing India’s Little Girls?’ ‘Each rural region of India has its own age-old method of female infanticide. In the West there is doodh-peeti (Drinking milk), where the baby is drowned in a bucket of milk. In eastern India, as in Bengal, where Karishma is from, salt is put into the baby’s mouth and it’s closed for a minute.
In fact, in Karishma’s father’s village, a few months before this photo of hers was taken, triplet girl babies that were born healthy were declared dead within a day. Autopsy reports showed that the family had killed them with salt in the mouth. In another recent incident, a father threw his new born off a train within 12 hours of her birth.
Fortunately, for the first 4 months of her life Karishma lived in her maternal grandparents’ house where she was well taken care of. However, soon as she was returned to her father’s house, Karishma’s paternal grandmother tried to put salt into her mouth. Her mother was able to save her, but after that she would saddle Karishma on her back and carry her everywhere, even to the toilet.
Karishma has a brother, who is 3 years older than her. He is doted on and pampered like a little prince. In fact Karishma’s father’s family though from the village is by no means poorly off. Her grandfather is the head of the panchayat (the village judiciary), and owns a lot of land and orchards. He even opened a shop to sell mobile phones in the village and a motorcycle showroom. Despite, this Karishma was unwanted. She was treated like she was non-existent. She would just lie on the floor near her mother, as she cooked, and cleaned for the family. No one ever picked her up or cuddled her. She was not just neglected and ignored but also deliberately starved. Interestingly, even the mother, who could have fed her anytime, chose not to. They did not even give her a name. The name ‘Karishma’ (meaning ‘Miracle’) was given to her by The 50 Million Missing Campaign founder, Rita Banerji, much later, who was shocked that the child, who was almost 2 years, did not even have a name. Karishma’s father and his family refused to give her mother any money to purchase milk or medicines for her.
Karishma was not yet a year old when her paternal grandmother, who constantly physically abused her mother, also started physically abusing Karishma. Over time the beatings intensified such that there were times when Karishma would pass out with the pain. She often had bruising all over her. The grandmother even taught Karishma’s brother how to strangle her. She told him, “If you kill your sister, you will be even more loved by us.”
In April 2010 Karishma and her mother had returned to live in the maternal grandparents’ house. Karishma was so malnourished that the doctor who examined her had said that a few more months and she would have been dead. It is not surprising that the mortality rate for girls under 5 years in India is 75% higher than for boys the same age.
Karishma was whole-heartedly embraced by her maternal grandparents. They lavished on her the love and care that every child deserves and needs. Her grandmother, Sandya would boil and mash vegetables everyday to give her the nutrition that she had been starved of all these months. Every morning Sandya would take Karishma to a little pre-nursery school where Karishma played with other children and could once again be in a normal, healthy environment. She was blossoming, eagerly interacting with people, and seemed like a happy child.
Then suddenly on May 30, 2010, Karishma’s mother decided to return with her to her husband and in-laws house. It is a response of a vast number of women in abusive marital homes in India, even in situations where they are given a lot of support and guidance as was the case with Karishma’s mother. Her mother had spoke to Rita Banerji, and was well aware that Karishma’s life was in danger. However, if she left Karishma behind, she would face further abuse in her in-laws house. Karishma’s mother made a choice: She was willing to sacrifice her daughter’s life to preserve her marriage, as unhappy and abusive as it was. A group of lawyers went to Karishma’s fathers house, and told Karishma’s mother they had come there to remove her and both her children to a safe house, and that under the law no one could stop them. But Karishma’s mother said that she wanted to live with her husband and would not leave unless her gave her permission to. It was very distressing for the lawyers, the 50 Million Missing Campaign and her parents as all of us wanted her to start a new life and were helping her in every possible way — as with counseling, training, a safe home and a new job. Women returning to their husband and in-laws homes however is a response that is culturally conditioned in India. It is deemed that a woman’s rightful place is with her husband, however good or bad he may be. This holds true even for the educated, professional, working women in India. Many who do eventually divorce consider it a shameful act. One hardly ever hears an Indian woman openly speak out about how she survived a violent marriage.
Our concern right now is primarily for Karishma. Her mother is an adult and we cannot force her to leave her husband and in-laws against her will. However poor Karishma has neither a choice nor a voice in the matter of her own life and safety. If she survives past the age of 5-6, our fear is that her grandparents could sell her into the sex trade, so they won’t have to pay a dowry for her later. Unfortunately, there is no law in India where there can be state/legal intervention when a child’s life or safety is endangered in her parents’ home. Unless both her parents’ give her up we cannot make provisions for her adoption. We however remain in touch with Sandya, Karishma’s maternal grandmother, who often visits the village where her daughter lives with her husband and in-laws, just to meet Karishma and make sure she is alright.