A 22-year-old woman, uneducated and impoverished, made innumerable sacrifices and took huge risks to protect her three young children. Today, she was reunited with her elder daughter - three-year-old Sanobar, who she last saw four months ago. Her son remains missing. And her youngest lies in a hospital bed with brain damage, christened Falak by her care-givers, a baby who India checks in on every day.
If a miniscule percentage of that attention had been shown to this young mother earlier, perhaps her life would have played out differently.
Munni was brought to Delhi yesterday after a police search that lasted several weeks, ending in Rajasthan, where she lived with her second husband, a man she was sold to for two lakhs. Munni was 16 when she was married to a petty criminal in Bihar. After they had three children, he walked out on his family. An acquaintance promised Munni a job if she moved to Delhi. So she moved to the capital only to discover that the job on offer was prostitution. A group of six people who Munni encountered appear to have been involved in human trafficking, though the police will not say this on record just yet.
When Munni turned down their requests to become a sex worker, Kanta and Lakshmi persuaded her to marry a man in Rajasthan. They offered to look after her children while she began her new married life. Soon, they promised, her husband would accept her children and she could take them to Rajasthan. That was few months ago.
Lakshmi deposited Sanobar with a relative in Bihar. It's not clear yet where the little boy was sent. And Falak was passed around among different adults. Her journey stopped temporarily with a man named Rajkumar, who had eloped with a teenager. The young girl had been initiated as a sex worker by the same group that Munni had encountered. Rajkumar was already married and took off a few months ago to meet his wife in Mumbai. It was the desperate and alienated teen who the police say tortured the young baby that she was now forced to look after alone. Falak's head was smashed against a wall, a clothes iron was switched on and placed on her face, she was bitten. On January 18, the teen walked into Delhi's AIIMS hospital and asked for help. Officials there felt her story that the baby had fallen from her bed were not true, and the teen was placed in a juvenile home.
Munni was interviewed today by child welfare officials, and has been granted custody of Sanobar. She cannot meet Falak - doctors are worried about visitors passing on infections to the baby, who remains on a ventilator in critical condition. When Falak improves - and doctors underscore every day that the odds are against her - police officials will consider DNA tests to confirm that Munni is indeed her biological mother. (Five new developments: Read)