An on-the-ground story – Field work through the eyes of Bhagyashri Ji

I chose to write this case story about this family in particular because, for me, this case is descriptive of the kind of work we are doing at Foster Care India. It is often the case that when we reach out to one family, we find another with the same needs. In the short duration since I started volunteering at Foster Care India, I find myself personally invested in a number of such cases. It is a humbling, eye-opening, and heartrending experience. Out of respect for the rights and privacy of the people we work with, the names of the family have been changed here.

Afreen, the 2-year-old girl shyly leaned into her mother and looked at us with large, curious eyes. From where she was sitting on the ground, the mother offered us water and a cold beverage; she had not gotten up to welcome us like the rest of her family – she is paraplegic. Afreen’s mother, Nasema, is widowed and lives with her mother and her sister, who has two children of her own. This family of 6 lives in a single-room home and is barely able to get by with an income that is less than 20 USD per month. Nasema’s only income is widow pension and whatever she is able to earn as a seamstress. Her mother, Zaynab, has been widowed for 20 years and receives widow pension. Minal is educated up to 5th grade and cleans houses, washes dishes and peddles jewellery to support the family. Minal’s husband left her and her two children, aged 5 and 7, over 2 years ago. During our visit with them, Zaynab appealed to us to do something to improve the quality of life of all three of her grandchildren. We are trying to do just that.

Rajesh ji, Foster Care India’s Direct Practice in-charge, first took on this family’s case in May 2014. Since then, Foster Care India has worked to bring Nasema and her daughter under the umbrella of the Palanhar Yojna. The Palanhar Yojna is a government scheme implemented to provide monetary support for the care of orphan and needy children. There are nine distinct and specific categories of ‘situations’ that are eligible to receive aid under this scheme. A few of these are; orphaned children, children of a widowed, divorced, or separated mother, and children of disabled parent(s). We are working to ensure that Nasema and her family have all the documentation they require to apply for and receive a monthly stipend from the government. The documentation required includes, among several other things, proof that the child is registered in an anganwadi. An anganwadi can be best described as a government playgroup for children up to 6 years of age where they receive proper nutrition and vaccinations, and are entered into the government database. This is the document that is still pending in Afreen’s case and we have done everything we can to make certain that the process is moving forward.

Minal and her children present a more complicated case. According to the rules of the Palanhar Yojna, documented proof of separation of the husband & wife needs to be submitted. In the eyes of law, the husband should be filed as a missing person for a duration of 7 years before they can be considered legally separated. As Minal’s husband has been absent only for 2 years, an alternate course of action will have to be adopted to allow her to receive aid for her two young children. Rajesh ji has proposed that a copy of the missing person’s report (FIR – first incidence report), be taken to the religious head of the community, who would then deem Minal and her husband separated in accordance with religious norms. This is would then be attested by the elected ward (block/residential area) representative. We hope this would then be considered sufficient proof of separation, bringing Minal and her children under the Palanhar Yojna blanket. At present, a separate case file has been opened and efforts are being made to collect the other documentation for Minal’s application.

Unfortunately, these things do not proceed as quickly as we would like them to. This is one of the dozen cases Foster Care India has come across in the short span of a couple of months. A corollary of our belief in ‘Every Child’s Right to Family’ is that we believe in helping a family become safe, stable, and supportive environment for a child. So, we seek out families who need our help, we connect with them, and find a way to provide them aid that is sustainable. In my opinion, this work is “real” and it is what is truly needed.