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Why an Indian couple picketed outside an adoption agency in search for missing baby

An Indian couple’s year-long search for their child, who was given up for adoption without their consent, came to an end on Wednesday.

Anupama Chandran, 22, gave birth to a baby boy at a hospital in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of southern Indian state Kerala, in October 2020. But for the past year, she and her partner Ajith Kumar, 34, have been engaged in a bitter custody battle because Ms Chandran’s father, S Jayachandran, gave up the child for adoption.

The acrimonious dispute between Ms Chandran and her parents included police complaints, court hearings, media interviews, allegations and counter-allegations, and, for the past two weeks, protests outside an adoption agency in Thiruvananthapuram.

It had also turned political as both Ms Chandran, her father and Mr Kumar were involved with the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPIM), the ruling party in Kerala.

The couple accused Mr Jayachandran, a senior leader of the trade union wing of the party, of kidnapping the child because he was born out of wedlock.

Ms Chandran said that the couple started living together three years ago when Mr Kumar separated from his wife. Last year, when she became pregnant, the couple decided to keep the child, though having a child out of wedlock is considered a social taboo in many parts of India.

She added that her parents were “in shock” when she told them about her decision, and asked her to come and stay with them during the last month of her pregnancy. During this time, they forbade her from talking to her partner.

Days after she delivered the child, her father took him away. When Ms Chandran protested, her mother told her that they would take care of the child in secret till her sister’s upcoming wedding.

“I agreed to that, but I kept on asking to see my child but they refused to show me,” Ms Chandran told The News Minute. “Until my sister’s marriage [in February 2021], they refused to show me the child. After the marriage they told me that I will never get my child back. That is when I realised they had abandoned him.”

The couple began their search for their child in March after they began living together again. In April, they filed a police complaint and approached the Child Welfare Committee. But the police registered the complaint only months later, on 18 October.

Meanwhile, in August, the Kerala State Council for Child Welfare gave the baby to foster parents in nearby Andhra Pradesh state.

As the couple struggled to locate the child in Kerala, they found that the baby’s father’s name had been changed in the hospital documents. When they went to the police, they were informed that Ms Chandran’s father had stated she had voluntarily given up the child for adoption.

On Tuesday, DNA tests mandated by a family court said that the couple’s samples matched with those of the baby in Andhra Pradesh. “I am really relieved. Our six-month struggle evoked some results,” Ms Chandran told the Hindustan Times.

Based on the DNA results, the court granted the child’s custody to Ms Chandran and her partner on Wednesday.

The emotional mother said she was happy that she was finally reunited with her child. “We will raise him as a good human,” she told local newspaper Manorama. “We don’t want to give him a luxurious life.” But Ms Chandran added that they would continue to protest until action was taken against those responsible for the injustice.

During the custody battle, Ms Chandran and her partner were also forced to deal with moral policing — from her parents, online trolls as well as some government leaders.

“Anupama says the baby’s father is a man who has a wife,” Mr Jayachandran told a news channel when the issue snowballed. “How can I leave my daughter and her child with him? Anupama was not keeping well after giving birth. So I entrusted the child with an adoption agency to look after it.”

Referring to such statements by the father, the state’s minister of culture Saji Cheriyan told a news channel that “her parents have done what everyone will do”. Ms Chandran has filed a police complaint against Mr Cheriyan for allegedly defaming the woman.

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