What would you associate with a building that houses 250 children in the age group of one to six years? Noise, lots of noise, I suppose. We were greeted with pin-drop silence. Welcome to Shishu Vihar Hyderabad.
We were left with two packets of diapers after B +ve and O +ve got potty trained. I got an idea that we could give it to the orphanage and our daughters could also spend some time there playing with the children.
I called up about 20 orphanages, none had children in the age group that we had diapers for. A couple of people told me that only Government houses the children below six years. The assumption being that the Government knows best to take care of infants and will not entrust this responsibility to anyone else. Once the child crosses six years, s/he is handed over to various orphanages, unless adopted by that age. I have no idea whether this theory told to me is true. However, it is a fact that I could not find a single orphanage in Hyderabad with children below six years.
Reaching out to Shishu Vihar Hyderabad
Seemingly, Shishu Vihar Hyderabad does not have a website or any other social networking paraphernalia. Justdial and Yellowpages show a couple of land-line numbers which are either not functional or nobody picks up.
I checked out the CARA website, assuming that Shishu Vihar Hyderabad should feature as the nodal agency for adoption in the state. But it was not to be.
I stumbled upon a private website that gives contact address of all Shishu Vihars across the country. On calling up the mobile number and saying that I wanted to give diapers, the person told me rudely that I need to take permission from the women and child welfare department.
I was told that diapers should be branded (which I suppose they always are), diapers should not have expired (I suppose nobody would ever want to give expired products to anyone leave aside children). I was told that I should have a satisfactory reason why I wanted to donate diapers. He got convinced that my children had no use for diapers, hence I wanted to give.
Finally, he told me that I can come down to the office, give a written request for diaper donation, take a stamped approval and then go to Shishu Vihar for giving the diapers.
Locating Shishu Vihar Hyderabad
I got the daughters and wife ready in a frenzy to reach the place. I told the girls that they might get to meet the children of their age. They kept asking questions along the way about who these children are and why they are not with their parents.
I realized that the Google Maps and the physical address on the website did not match. The gentleman had spoken to me rudely enough to not be disturbed again. I called up the landline number, repeated the process with a lady this time. She told me that they close the office at 5 pm sharp, I should take the approval before that, and guided me to the wrong place.
After taking a couple of incorrect turns, asking 3-4 people on the road, we finally reached the Shishu Vihar Hyderabad. The security guard and the staff at the building told us that we have directly reached the Shishu Vihar without taking the approval. The department office was in the front, but there is no compound wall and no security at the non-existent entrance, so we reached directly.
I again called up the land-line number, it was 5.05 pm. The lady told me that the office has closed, they have left and that we should come back the next day. This was getting exasperating. I told the lady that our place is 14-15 km away, we cannot keep coming back and that we had to give and not take. Finally, the lady got convinced. She told me that I can give the written request to the staff and hand over the diaper packets. The next day, she will make a back-dated approval letter.
The Shishu Vihar
After the verbal approval from the lady, the security guard escorted us to the building where the children in the age group of one to six years are housed. The first building, where we landed up, houses children below one year.
We walked past an under-repair building, a playground full of rubble and unwanted furniture and 5-6 newly constructed buildings, which were completely empty. Finally, we arrived at the Shishu Vihar building.
The security guard told that 250 children are housed in that building. The only thing we noticed was complete silence and lots of toys kept inside with a warning sign that photography is prohibited. Again the same procedure got repeated with the staff who refused to take the diaper packets without the approval letter. The security guard intervened and told the staff that the lady in the departmental office has verbally approved.
We were given the format of the request letter and blank A4 sheet of paper. After giving the formal request, we were asked to make the entry in the register. The staff refused to give us the acknowledgement for the receipt of diapers and asked us to come back after the office opens.
We enquired about the children and were told that nobody can see the children. On being asked why the children are not playing with the toys or why they are not in the outside playing area, we were told that the weather is a bit cold so they have not been taken out. We asked if we can visit Shishu Vihar to celebrate our daughters’ birthday, we were told that it is strictly not allowed and repeated that there is no access to Shishu Vihar children. We asked if these children go to school. The staff told that 4 teachers visit them and that these children are not allowed to leave the premises.
We did want to ask more about the children, who are they, what they do, the living conditions etc. We were told that we had completed the task of giving the diapers and we should leave.
The government has the responsibility to protect these vulnerable children but did not understand the need for the veil of complete secrecy. These children though come from society are devoid of parental care. What is the need to keep them completely segregated? Even though the society would want to integrate them, the government does not want them to be assimilated.
I did not understand the procedural aspects of all paper-based working wherein even today; the back-dated approval letters are being made (what happened to Digital India)? But, why the approval in the first place? Why this government attitude of being a controller of the fate of these children?
I am not raising any doubt about the working of Shishu Vihar Hyderabad, as I have not seen anything. Though, I suspect if anybody is allowed to see anything here.
It reminded us of Anganwadi, wherein we developed cold feet after seeing the real conditions.
The girls came back from Shishu Vihar Hyderabad without meeting any children of their age. Going by what we saw, they will not be able to meet any children in future either, from this place.