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How the media turned an abandoned, mentally ill child into 'Mowgli'

Atul Chandra | Updated on: 7 April 2017, 21:04 IST

It's the premise for one of the most famous children's books ever written – wild animals taking in a lost child to raise as one of their own. It sounds like pure fantasy, straight out of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.

But the story of the 'Mowgli girl', who was found 'living among the monkeys' in the forests of Uttar Pradesh's Bahraich, as represented in the media, is nothing but romanticised claptrap.

What's clear now is that the child found herself in the middle of the media circus just because initial observations made by a senior doctor who examined her were blown out of proportion and misinterpreted. It was made to seem as though the girl was a real-life 'Mowgli' of sorts. But she isn't.

Like most truths, this one is a simple tale too. When probed further, the eight-year-old 'feral child' was diagnosed as “mentally retarded, physically fit” by a psychiatrist.

Who is the girl and why was she living in the wild?

According to several newspapers, woodcutters spotted her before sub-inspector Suresh Yadav located the emaciated girl while he was on a routine patrol near Khapra forest outpost in the Motipur range of Katarniaghat on 25 January.

She was taken to a hospital after the discovery, and has been looked after there ever since. “She was without a stitch on her body and was surrounded by monkeys, who attacked the police team when it tried rescue the child,” said one report.

Adding fuel to the fire, a viral WhatsApp message claimed that monkeys had surrounded the hospital where the girl was being treated.

The station house officer of Motipur police station, Ram Autar Yadav, had a different take on the child’s recovery. “Aisa kuchh nahi tha (nothing of that sort happened),” he said.

“On 25 January, we got a call from a woodcutter on Dial 100 about the girl. We brought her in, and after producing her before a magistrate, we got the girl admitted to the district women's hospital,” said.

Why was the discovery kept from the media for two months?

If sources are to be believed, the news of the girl was broken to the media two days ago, as it was becoming difficult to keep her in the hospital.

Child Helpline and other non-governmental organisations were approached, but they all refused to take the girl. Even the government-run child protection home declined to accept the child, saying it was ill-equipped to handle her.

Thus was revived the story of Mowgli.

A wild child

Dr DK Singh, the Chief Medical Superintendent of the Bahraich hospital, said other than a few symptoms, there was no proof that the girl was like the Jungle Book character she's being compared to.

“When she was brought to us, she had no clothes on her body, was injured, walked on all fours, behaved and screamed like an animal, and preferred darkness. Instead of hands, she ate food off the floor using her mouth,” Singh said.

He added that the girl could not speak, presumably as she may not have heard anyone speak.

It was a combination of the above characteristics that made the doctor come to the conclusion that the girl must have lived in the wild for a long time.

Aisa lagta hai kai saal jungle mein rahi hai isiliye bolna nahi seekhi hai aur janwaron ki tarah behave kar rahi hai (It seems that she has stayed in the jungles far too long, which is why she behaves like animals and is unable to speak),” the doctor said.

Over two months, the doctor said, the staff had worked hard to bring her under control, and that her health had improved by leaps and bounds. She is said to be still frightened of humans.

Although she had been taught to walk upright, she still prefers to walk on all fours, medics said.

First published: 7 April 2017, 20:20 IST