16 images35 million* Indian females are missing today. Some were killed in the womb, some as infants, while others succumbed in their desperate bid to have a male child. As the pendulum swings alarmingly towards a lopsided sex ratio, women find themselves being tugged from both ends. On the one hand, they are pressurised to aggravate the shortage by acting as fertility machines for male heirs. However, as the number of ‘bare sticks’ or bachelors grows, they are also made to fill the deficit by being trafficked for marriage or even shared among brothers. As the situation gets more and more precarious, cracks in the walls of the family unit are beginning to show. This visual narrative looks at some of those left behind…
16 imagesMALSAWM (Blessed One) In a small tribal village of Churachandpur in Manipur, Mr Pauzagin Tonsing and his wife were blessed with a baby boy in 2005. A day after his birth Sawmte was diagnosed with optic nerve atrophy. The nearest school for children with special needs was a two-hour drive on hilly terrain to capital city Imphal, an impossible journey for him. In 2006, a group of parents led by Pauzagin, his father, decided to build a school where their children’s disability could be transformed into ability. Pauzagin sold a piece of his own land to be able to buy the school plot. Other members of the local community and the Church all chipped in. Soon UNDP began to support them and four young United Nations Volunteers joined as physiotherapists, speech therapists, rehabilitation specialists and school administrators. On April 23rd, 2016 Pauzagin Tonsing lost his son but his commitment to the school stays as strong, now in Sawmte’s memory.
13 imagesAt the age of four, Chhaidy disappeared in the nearby forest, but last month at age 42, she was rediscovered. Locals say she was taken away by a spirit in the forest. “I kept hearing a young girl was spotted in some part of the forest,” says the 62-year-old Khaila, “But when I would go there, she would never be around.” Then two woodcutters caught sight of ‘wild looking’ woman, naked, long-haired and with long fingernails, this time in the Myanmar forests. When they tried to catch her, she attacked them with her nails and teeth. Over the next few years, many villagers from Aru who were travelling through Theiva told Khaila that he bore a sharp resemblance to the ‘jungle girl’ they had adopted. Along with six other villagers, he walked on foot for three days to the other side of the border to Aru. “When I was alone in the kitchen, I suddenly felt two strong arms around me. It was her. She was hugging me and calling me ‘Ippa’ (father in the Mara dialect),” remembers Khaila. The woman also bore two moles—on her left cheek and right thigh—that Khaila remembered his daughter had. This sealed it for him and all the talk about whether he would want to get a DNA test irritates him. When Chhaidy went missing, she spoke fluent Mara. Now her vocabulary is of only two recognisable words: ‘banana’ and ‘open’, for urine and faeces, other than ‘Inna’ (mother in the Mara dialect) apart from ‘Ippa’. She refers to water as ‘nam’, anything that flies as ‘jackey’, and soup as ‘appozee’. She may be 42, but in many ways, she has only just begun to experience childhood and adolescence. Surprisingly, for someone believed to have lived in a forest away from human habitation and bereft of any social skills, Chhaidy is not shy of human interaction. She often borrows handsets from neighbours to speak into, holding lengthy conversations that make no sense. The one routine that has set in with her very own discipline is her morning and often evening march up to the village church. “Amen,” she shouts loudly as the gathering concludes. At last, a word she knows. - text by Lhendup G Bhutia for Open Magazine