For the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I’m blogging 26 days in April based on the alphabet and bringing you stories from the nonprofit Project Why.
Not all stories at Project Why have a happy ending, and today, I bring you the dark story of Ghaziabad Girls, from the outskirts of New Delhi, India. It makes me feel helpless and angry, but as a writer, I believe that stories have power, and we must keep telling them in order to be able to bring about change.
It was in 2006 that Project Why first heard of the existence of the Ghaziabad Girls. It was at an expat gathering where pictures of an organization based near New Delhi were shown by the host in the hope of garnering support. A sense of evil permeated the pictures and filled the audience with a sense of foreboding.
On learning that this was a refuge for mentally challenged girls, Project Why managed to arrange a visit, and discovered a house of horrors at this Ghaziabad ashram. Around 50 girls between the age of 2 and 15, 15 of them mentally challenged, lived in squalor at a well-guarded and fenced building. Many did not have underwear, were rarely bathed and smelt foul. This had gone on for many long years.
The place was run by a ‘holy man’ who chanted his own praise. A search on the net brought up rumors of many girls sexually abused. The ‘holy man’ seemed very well-connected, so Project Why had to plan the next course of action.
After the story was aired, the girls were rescued after a nightlong battle. (Here’s a 9-yr old video from one of India’s major news channels, NDTV. ) They were sent to different places. This was heartbreaking as they had bonded to survive. Because of the anonymity clause Project Why could not keep in touch with them or even know of their well-being. That fateful night civil society was outraged but the case remained in limbo. Few days later the ‘holy man’ appeared in court surrounded by his band of supporters and then deafening silence.
It has been 9 years of the ‘holy man’ on bail.
I have tried searching the internet for Balnath Ashram, where the girls were found in Ghaziabad, but other than a few scattered news reports from 2006, haven’t managed to find anything concrete. I was outraged then, and remain outraged now, but there’s not much I’ve been able to do, other than keeping these girls in my thoughts. As indeed has Anouradha Bakshi, the founder of Project Why, at whose behest these girls got out of that house of horrors.
Most of them must now be young women. No one knows where they are.
Have you heard of situations like this where you live? Know of anyone who can help us track these girls and whether this ‘holy man’ was brought to justice? Will you support Project Why in its fight against poverty and illiteracy that are the main reasons such incidents take place?
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