Tauseef Ahmad/ TwoCircles.net
Hari Ram Pandey, a 66-year-old man from Deogarh in Jharkhand, has been raising abandoned girls on his own for the past two decades. He recently made news after appearing on television in October after being invited to participate in a reality show hosted by Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.
Silent Guardian and Saviour of 35 ‘daughters’
Pandey discovered a baby girl in a wilderness abandoned by her parents in December 2004. Because the infant was in critical condition, he had her brought to a hospital, where she was treated for over three weeks. That day transformed his life, and after successful treatment, he adopted her and brought her home.
He named her Tappase. She has now turned 19. She was the first, but not the last, abandoned girl child Pandey would take under his care.
“Months after Tappase’s recovery, I received a phone call from someone about another abandoned girl child. I rescued her and named her Khushi,” Pandey told Two Circles.
Following the recovery of the second abandoned child, Pandey, on the advice of the temple town’s then deputy commissioner, founded Narayan Seva Ashram for such children with his wife Bhavani Kumari and had it registered as a trust.
Pandey has raised 35 girl children and one boy between the ages of 0 and 8 years who were abandoned by their parents in forests, moving trains, lushes, riverbanks, or near garbage dumping sites since then. All of these children call him Pandey Baba (father).
‘Daughter’s Are God’s Gift to Me’: Pandey
Despite several government campaigns throughout the years, Indian parents have a strong preference for sons. Boys are regarded as an investment, whilst girls are regarded as a liability.
“I don’t understand, we live in the twenty-first century where a girl child is still a burden for someone? Our society needs to change the perception. Our daughters can do more than our sons. Girls, too, deserve a good education and a good life,” Pandey stated.
“I had a headache yesterday. After school, all of the girls sat close to me. They are God’s gifts to me,” he added.
Pandey’s Ashram is located in the Adivasi (tribal) area of Jharkhand, where there is no place for abandoned children within 150-200 kilometers. For the past 20 years, Pandey has been a top priority for local police, railway police, and local administration when they find abandoned children in the district.
Humanity Above Religion
Pandey has struggled financially to sustain the Ashram while also providing good schooling for the children.
“People have helped me a lot in terms of money and other facilities, especially the Muslims in the vegetable market who used to give me vegetables for free every day for my children,” Pandey told Two Circles.
“Pandey is doing a noble job raising these 35 children, giving them shelter, education, and a happy life.” Liyaqat Ahmad, 42, a Muslim vegetable trader told Two Circles.
He also stated that all vegetable sellers, Muslims, and Hindus alike, will continue to help him in whatever way they can.
In addition to the assistance from the vegetable seller, the D.A.V Public School, which the children from the ashram attend, does not charge Pandey any fees. “It gives me hope of carrying this mission forward,” he said.
Pandey further stated that the district administration has recently provided some computers to the girls.
Plans for a School for Poor Children
Tappasi and Khushi, the first two adopted children, passed their high school final exams with first-division grades and aspire to be doctors. “They want to take care of the children like them and poor people who are suffering from diseases and could not afford treatment,” he said.
Pandey is currently on a mission to build a school for poor girl children whose parents cannot afford to educate their them owing to financial constraints. “Will provide free meals and free education to students from poor communities,” he remarked, adding that educating this generation will educate future generations.
Pandey has urged the administration to establish a public ashram for orphaned children in each district of the state.
Growing Numbers of Abandoned Children in India
According to a report by Carings, the central government portal for child care, the number of orphans and abandoned children in India has increased by 25% since 2020. According to the report, the number of such children in 2022-23 was 5663.
Tauseef Ahmad is an independent reporter based in Kashmir, India.