It was August, 2020. The first Covid wave was still sweeping across the country. It was a Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel who first spotted her outside the Chitpur railway yard in Kolkata, weeping inconsolably.
With no clear idea about what to do with the child, he carried her to the RPF post. Senior Eastern Railway (ER) officials were informed. The girl was clearly not from Kolkata.
The Sealdah Division of ER immediately sent out her details to all other Divisions in a bid to find out if any child had been reported missing.
No information was received and little Kareena (about 5-years-old) was handed over to Child Line.
From there, she was moved to the shelter of another NGO, dealing with such children. All efforts continued to trace her family.
She spoke Hindi so information was sent out to states like Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. The child, in between her bouts of crying, had mentioned some locations.
Efforts were made to trace her family at those locations as well but these efforts turned out futile. In 2021, she was handed over to Keertika, another NGO that has a child care centre in Behala, Kolkata. Authorities there got her admitted to a primary school.
“She turned out to be a brilliant student. Home authorities told me that she was among the best in her class, despite her not knowing Bengali. Those at Keertika had come to know of us during a public function and contacted me, seeking assistance in tracing the child’s family. We exploited all our resources and were finally able to trace her family to Sahibganj in Jharkhand,” said Ambarish Nag Biswas, secretary, West Bengal Radio Club (WBRC), an organisation of amateur radio operators that has a wide network across the country and abroad.
According to Nag Biswas, the child’s father is a basket weaver and sells his wares at the Sahibganj railway station. On occasions, he takes his whole family along to the station. While the parents are busy selling baskets, the children play around.
On that fateful day in 2020, little Kareena and her brothers were playing inside an empty rake parked at the station. It started moving all of a sudden. While her brothers managed to jump out, the girl was left inside. Later, when their parents quizzed the boys, they said that Kareena had left in the train.
“They are poor people. When our contacts got in touch with the mother and we got her to connect with her daughter through a video call, it was a heart-wrenching moment. The woman had given up her child as dead. The little girl had given up all hope of getting back to her family ever again. Both were weeping. Kareena’s parents arrived in Kolkata on Saturday to take their daughter back after all legal formalities.
“While we are extremely happy to have been able to reunite the child with her family, there is a tinge of regret. Given their financial state, we do not think that Kareena will be able to carry on with her studies. Her classmates at Bani Niketan Primary School in Behala will certainly look out for her. We can only appeal to some Good Samaritan to help so she may carry on with her studies while remaining with her family,” Nag Biswas said.