Prakash Kaur was abandoned as a baby 60 years ago, and has used her experience to transform the lives of other girls who have suffered the same fate. Since 1993, she has dedicated her life to rescuing unwanted and unclaimed newborn girls and giving them a secure home and future.
Today, Unique Home for Girls in Jalandhar, Punjab, has around 60 residents ranging from newborn babies to 19 years olds. Prakash Kaur wants to raise these girls as healthy individuals, educate them and teach them social skills. “They are my own children,” Prakash Kaur says. “They are never made to feel like abandoned children.” Unique Home is run by a trust named after Bhai Ghanayya Ji, a disciple of Guru Gobind Singh, with a number of trustees based in England.
The first thing that one notices when arriving at Unique Home is a small hatched box near the entrance – you lift the hatch and there is a shelf. Parents can anonymously place their daughters there and leave. When a baby is placed on the shelf, an alarm is set off in the house to let staff know that they have a new member of their family. When it comes to christening the new arrivals, names are drawn from different religions – girls have Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh names.
The house includes three small rooms that serve as a bedroom, dining area and playroom, in addition to a small kitchen and an office for visitors. The room for babies has three big cradles with four to five infants sleeping in them.
However, the shortage of space is the least of the home’s problems for the hearts here are big. This is a family, and the older girls take care of the younger ones. Prakash Kaur cooks the girls a hearty Punjabi meal 3 times per day. The girls go to very good English medium schools, and some have been married into suitable homes. But Prakash Kaur’s responsibility does not end there.
She continues to keep a watch over the girls even after they are married. She fights for their rights if the in-laws prove to be difficult. An example of this was former Unique Home occupant, Alka. When she became a widow at a young age, her in-laws took all her property and threw her out of the house. Prakash Kaur intervened, fought hard and eventually managed to secure for Alka her rightful share in the family property.
So far Prakash Kaur has organised the marriages of 17 of the Unique Home occupants, some who graduated university before getting married. Several of the older girls here have decided not to marry and instead dedicate themselves to the service of Unique Home.
April 24 is a very special day at Unique Home. Most of the girls do not know their date of birth, so it has been decided that April 24 is the day when all the girls will celebrate their birthday with a huge 100kg cake. In addition, once a year during school holidays, the girls of Unique Home go on a trip to Darjeeling.
Prakash Kaur could have given up the girls for adoption, but she is against it. “We don’t want to give our kids up for adoption. People come to us but we refuse,” says Prakash Kaur. She knows of many cases in which adopted girls have been ill treated.
"I will never allow my daughters to work as maids anywhere."
An interesting aspect of Unique Home is that the girls know that they have been abandoned because of their gender. Some of them have suffered horrific abuse at the hands of their families. However this has been used as ammunition for the girls to better themselves. Sheeba wants to be a successful neurosurgeon. Prakash Kaur recognised how intelligent Sheeba was at a young age, and Sheeba now goes to one of the best boarding schools in North India so that she is given the top resources and opportunities to fulfil her dream.
"I want my real mother to know that the daughter she threw out of her life is well established. I want to be very famous. I want to prove to her that girls are not a burden," she says. Sheeba has always been top in her classes and is determined to make it to a good medical college.
Lucy is 19 years old. She wants to be a professor of English. "I believe that education is the only way forward in this society which discriminates against girl children," she says.
Punjab has one of India’s most skewed sex ratios and the percentage of women in the state’s population keeps dipping every year (especially among the educated and higher strata of society) – for more information, click here to read statistics on women and children in India.
However with women like Prakash Kaur, there is a lot of hope for Punjab and the rest of India.
To learn more about Prakash Kaur and Unique Children’s Home, please visit www.dayatrust.comIf you are visiting Jalandhar and would like to donate supplies or visit Unique Home, please click here for contact details to arrange a meeting.