KHOWAI: Did grinding poverty force a poor tribal couple living in western Tripura's Khowai district to sell their one-day-old son since the expenses for bringing him up were too much for them to bear? It depends on which way you look at it.
Officials in Left-ruled Tripura maintain that the poor parents, who already had three children, did not sell the infant for a mere Rs.4,500 but "gifted" him to a childless couple living in the Madhabbari area of the Mandai block in west Tripura district.
As a controversy erupted, the authorities "rescued" the newborn with an NGO's help a week later and lodged him at a government-run shelter, away from his biological as well as adoptive parents. The incident was reported from the remote tribal-dominated Munda Basti, 125 km north of Agartala.
Ironically, the week-old newborn's fate is still in the hands of the biological parents who "sold" the child in the first place, since they would soon be asked by authorities if they wish to raise the infant on their own or not.
"When my wife was three months pregnant, we asked a local government doctor to abort the foetus. However, my neighbours advised us not to terminate the pregnancy. They assured us that I will be put in contact with someone who will ensure a better life for the baby," the infant's father, Ranjit Tanti, told IANS.
The 48-year-old said he eked out a living by selling firewood.
"My son was born on June 2 and we handed him to a childless couple (in western Tripura) the very next day. They gave me Rs.4,500," Tanti said. Local villagers corroborated Tanti's version.
As the local media got wind of the issue that acquired political overtones, the Manik Sarkar-led government ordered an inquiry to "find out the actual facts".
"In fact, the tribal couple did not sell the newborn. They gifted him to a childless couple. With the help of NGO Child Line, we rescued the infant and put him in a government-run home in Agartala," Khowai sub-divisional magistrate Sumit Roy Chowdhury told IANS.
"The rescue efforts were very tough as the childless couple was reluctant to return the baby. If the biological parents are keen to raise the newborn, we will return the child to them," the official added.
"Both the couples were unaware of the illegality of the deal. The adoptive parents admitted that they gave a few thousand rupees to the biological parents," he maintained.
"The whole process was videotaped and statements of both the couples were recorded," Roy Chowdhury said. The Congress demanded a Below Poverty Line (BPL) card for the poor tribal couple to ensure governmental support to it.
Tripura Congress president Birajit Sinha, who met the tribal couple, had a different take on the incident.
"The family admitted they sold the child as it was extremely impossible for them to feed the newborn out of the family's very meagre income. We had earlier heard of such incidents in other states of India. But we are now witnessing child trade in Tripura," said Sinha, a legislative assembly member and a former minister.
"The adoptive couple even gave an advance of Rs.1,000 to the infant's biological mother when she was eight-month pregnant," Sinha maintained.
Child Line official Prasanna Chakraborty, who was part of the team that rescued the child, told IANS. "The Tanti family is very poor, and does not even have a proper house to live in. The couple already has three children. The newborn is their fourth child."
"The child's fate will be decided soon as the biological parents will be asked if they want the newborn back," he added.
Social Welfare and Social Education Minister Bijita Nath refused comment on the issue.
Tribal Welfare Minister and veteran tribal leader Aghore Debbarma, who represents Khowai in the legislative assembly, said that "he had heard about the incident and ordered an inquiry".