The discovery of a girl reportedly living with monkeys in the forests of northern India, has been compared to a modern-day Jungle Book, but officials and doctors close to the child say the true story is darker.
This week news reports from the state of Uttar Pradesh said the girl, aged around eight, found by forest rangers in January living with and acting like a monkey. She was reportedly naked, crawled on all fours and screeched at passersby.
According to more extraordinary accounts police had been forced to fight off monkeys to rescue the girl.
But far from being raised by animals in the Katarniya Ghat forest range, the girl, who doctors believe has mental and physical disabilities, was likely to have been recently abandoned in the wilderness by her carers, the district chief forestry officer said.
JP Singh said the girl was actually found on a roadside near the forest, not deep in the wilderness. And though there were monkeys in her vicinity, his rangers “never found this girl living with monkeys”, he said.
“I think the family members of this girl had been aware that she is not able to speak, and they may have abandoned her near the forest road,” he said. “If she was living with monkeys it would have been for a few days only, not for a long time.
“It is clear from first time view, if you see the girl, that she is only eight or nine years old, but her facial expressions show that she is disabled, not only mentally but also physically,” he said.
The forest is closely monitored by rangers and CCTV, and it was unlikely she could have survived in the wilderness for long without being spotted, he added.
The chief medical officer of the hospital in Bahraich, where the girl has been receiving treatment since she was found in January, said it was difficult to “say exactly when she was abandoned”.
“In India, people do not prefer a female child and she is mentally not sound,” DK Singh said. “So all the more [evidence] she was left there.”
Ankur Lal, the chief medical officer for Bahraich district, said the nature of the child’s disability was “still under investigation”, but it was unlikely she had been raised in the forest.
“When she was found, she was behaving violently. She had no toilet habits, no communication. So it was taken that she had been living in the jungle for long,” he said.
But the rapid improvement she had made since being hospitalised now led doctors to believe she had in fact been raised by people. “Initially she was crawling but now she is walking normally – so she hasn’t been in the jungle since birth,” Lal said.
“The truth of the matter is her family didn’t want to look after her,” said Ranjana Kumari a leading activist in the movement to promote the welfare of young girls in a society where female foeticide persists, and has severely distorted birth rates, especially in rural areas.
“Some families value girls less than boys,” she said. “They would rather get rid of the girl than spend money on her. It is a lot more responsibility because of the social environment we live in.”
She said the Indian state offered little help for poor families with disabled children – “and when it is a girl, it becomes double the issue”.
The girl will be moved on Saturday to a children’s home in Lucknow to continue her recovery.