A cradle outside her home in Lucknow may look strange for passersby. But for the orphaned and abandoned girls, it ensures love, warmth and motherly care. For nearly 30 years, this cradle has seen many an abandoned baby girl being left in it only to be taken care of by another mother, who has established an ashram for these very girls.
For the founder of the female destitute home, which is called Manisha Mandir, Dr Sarojini Agarwal there are thousands of children abandoned on the roads and pavements, who also crave for help, love and warmth.
Interestingly, the destitute home owes its origin to a tragedy, which had struck Sarojini over three decades ago. Her eight-year-old daughter Manisha died in a road accident. “In these orphans and abandoned girls I see my daughter Manisha,’’ she said.
Incidentally Manisha, who was the youngest child of Sarojini , had a twin brother. Though the loss had shocked Sarojini, the personal trauma also brought with it a profound realisation of duty. “When Manisha died a voice from my aching void asked me – why do you weep? It would not bring back Manisha. There are many unfortunate girls, who do not have anybody,” she said.
And thus was born the destitute home for the girls. “Now Manisha’s spirit lives on and is immortal. May be God took away Manisha from me as he wanted me to take care of these children,” Sarojini said.
“Initially, I had to face some problems in bringing up the girls. After all I had to deal with troubled lives but I did not lose heart and continued to make attempts to pour all I have for them,” she said.
Manisha Mandir accepts abandoned and orphaned girls up to eight years of age. There is no lower age limit. “We have received baby girls who were barely six or eight months old,” she added.
Sarojini has kept a cradle outside her home in the state capital. “It has been kept for those who try to abandon their unwanted female babies,” she said.
“The cradle is called Sanjeevan Palana,” quite aptly as it does give “sanjeevani” (giving life again). Sarojini believes that education for the girls was the key to their upbringing. “Only good education can make the girls independent, which is so crucial for their self-confidence,” she added.
“We make sure that the girls receive the best education. We get them admitted to good and prestigious schools. Many of our girls have excelled in their studies and have secured good jobs,” she said.
Sarojini has a doctorate degree in Hindi literature. She has taken up several honorary assignments in many institutions. She is very clear that she will not accept anything in return. The girls are married when they attain the right age. “It is our responsibility to get them married into good families. The girls leave the home when they get married or when they get jobs,” she said.
Many girls have been rehabilitated through legal adoption. The institution has also helped many girls in getting jobs and setting up their own business. So far, Sarojini, who is 74 year old, has raised more than 500 “daughters” in the “mandir”. “It is not easy to become a mother. It requires great efforts, virtue and love,’’ she said.
Currently there are 33 destitute girls in her home.For her the greatest pleasure is derived when the girls call her “mummy”. “I feel that I have got everything,” she said. The girls in the “home” also never felt that they were not at home. “Mummy is everything for us. I have not seen the woman who gave birth to me but I know she too would not have loved me as much as this mummy,” said Apoorva (name changed).
Girls above the age of six wash their own clothes, cook by turns, sweep the hall and wash their dishes. Initially, there was no one else to help her in her work. But as she grew old, she was forced to employ a housekeeper.
Sarojini, who recently underwent a major surgery for osteoarthritis, was overwhelmed by the love and sympathy she received from her “daughters” during her brief illness. “They all were so concerned. I never felt I was not their real mother,” she said. The septuagenarian mother has received all cooperation and help from her family in her endeavour. “My husband is a retired engineer and my three sons have always lent all possible help. They were always ready to do whatever they can and without their cooperation I would not have been able to fulfill my commitment toward these girls,” she said.
There are so many destitute girls in society who for want of proper protection and guidance go astray and are forced to lead a miserable life. Manisha Mandir besides providing protection to such helpless girls is also committed to first educate them in a befitting manner and then get their marriages solemnised with suitable grooms, she pointed out. The success of this gigantic and noble task is not, however, possible without the active cooperation of society, she said.
“It is quite unfortunate that society is not very forthcoming in helping the abandoned and orphaned girls. There is an urgent need to pay attention to them and do whatever we can,” she said. Sarojini has no idea how long will she be able to go on serving these girls. “It is up to God. I will continue to do what I am doing as long as God wills,” she said.