February 19, 2017 12:01:34 am
His adoption is the first of its kind in India, where foster care is already rare, and rarer still is the adoption of a 15-year-old spastic and autistic boy. However, Gaurav Deepak Kamble, now 17, is finally settling into a new life where he has a permanent school, and parents and sisters he can legally call his own.
He was nine months old when he was put in foster care under the Kamble family. Before this, Gaurav suffered rejection by several Indian and foreign couples for 15 years. In 2015, the Kambles adopted him, months before the Central Adoption Regional Agency’s guidelines changed, making the process online. They are now a family of eight. “We knew no one can take better care of him than us,” says Deepak Kamble, 45, his adoptive father. To every inquisitive neighbour, he now explains how Gaurav was initially their foster child but now the adopted son.
“I have never seen such a case before,” says Najma Goriawala, consultant with the Indian Association for Promotion of Adoption and Child Welfare (IAPA), the NGO that handled Gaurav’s case.
In a tiny Bandra chawl, the Kambles have fostered over 100 infants for over three decades. Gaurav was the toughest to handle. He is a hyperactive child who keeps them on their toes. When he sings, the chawl residents joke it will be hard to stop him. “He sings while bathing. We have to keep knocking to make him hurry,” says Kamble with a laugh as he looks admiringly at Gaurav, who is loudly singing a Sairat song, his fingers drumming a tabla.
Deepak’s mother, Mathura Kamble, 65, began foster care in 1983 to earn an extra living after her husband retired from the army with an injured leg. Her first foster child was Raju, who had skin infection. “But I took good care of him. I already had three children so I knew how to manage infants,” she says. She would foster a baby for a few months, who would eventually get adopted, and a new orphan would come to them.
In 2000, IAPA placed nine-month-old Gaurav under her foster care. Till then, Mathura had fostered children with HIV, heart ailments and disabilities. Most were adopted abroad. With Gaurav, however, they had to encounter challenges like never before. He would lie in one place, unable to move, and wail. His eye balls would roll over, showing only the whites and Deepak’s four daughters would get scared.
Along with IAPA, the Kambles visited paediatric doctors and started a daily two-hour session of physiotherapy for him. Mathura remembers missing her mother’s funeral for his session. “His growth depended on it,” the sexagenarian says. Doctors had predicted that Gaurav would never be able to move around. Spasticity causes a muscle control disorder. Furthermore, he suffered from autism.
“I decided to help him till he lives,” Mathura says. She would massage him twice a day, dig a sand pit and cover him so that he would struggle to move his muscles.When he turned three he showed visible development. His movements and speech improved – he would play with Deepak’s daughters and with other foster kids Kambles looked after. The family and the NGO then started his speech and occupational therapy.
Between 2000 and 2014, IAPA showed his profile to several couples. “But he was rejected everywhere,” says Savita Nagpurkar, IAPA’s adoption in-charge. In 2006, Mathura’s daughter and Deepak’s sister, Sujata, found a special-needs school in Pune for Gaurav. Three years later, he shifted with her.
“My sister got trained as a special educator for Gaurav. There was a different level of attachment with him,” Kamble says. People would ask, “Ye kaun hai?(Who is he),” and the Kambles would say, “our son”. Though they knew he would go one day.
It was only when he turned 14 and the Child Welfare Committee stepped in to suggest he be put under permanent institutional care. “By then, we knew no one would adopt him,” Nagpurkar says.
The Kambles feared Gaurav’s development would reverse at a children’s home. The decision to adopt was instant. Usha Kamble, 40, his adoptive mother and Deepak’s wife, smiles, “We could not part with him.” On January 23, 2015, Gaurav stood in the sessions court. The judge asked him his name and he said for the first time, “Gaurav Deepak Kamble.”
His adoption wasn’t without its hurdles, though. He could not be adopted under the Hindu law since he was over 12 years, so they applied under the Juvenile Justice Act.
“I call them what I called them from the start — papa, mummy and aayi,” Gaurav says. He discusses politics, cricket and Olympics with great interest. He is hyperactive, though, and requires daily medication to calm him down. “I have been scolded only once,” he says , “I had taken my friends and sisters to a river in our village in Satara. Papa searched for three hours. When he found us, he took out his belt to hit.”
Gaurav’s day starts at 7 am and he attends school from 11.30 am onwards. He cycles for two hours to channelise his extra energy. “At night, I play football with my cousin,” he says. The family claims he never sits calmly. “He bosses over us,” younger sister Hetal chips in. Gaurav is in class IX now and regularly travels between Pune and Mumbai for his education. “I want to become a singer or runner,” he says, adding that he did not know what his future would be like until his adoption.
Gaurav has been one of the few to get a foster home, as most orphans are put in institutional care until their adoption. Awareness in India is still low about foster care. For instance, the IAPA has only 10 foster families in Mumbai. “I want to set up an organisation that helps such children, some place that employs autistic people,” says Kamble, who has a small travel business.
Gaurav’s adoption has became a story of not just inspirational social work, but of love and pride for their chawl. “The day Gaurav was adopted, the judge offered chocolates to the family. That has never happened before,” Nagpurkar says.
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