The villagers told the visiting officials that employment opportunities were what they needed most. But when they pressed their case, village leaders had alleged, the district magistrate warned them not to play politics or take their protests too far, or the village would be denied the few benefits (such as ration cards) it was getting.
After his mother's death, Gundhar was very weak. Local panchayat leaders took the child to Khariar Mission Hospital, nine kilometres away, where he was diagnosed with severe malnutrition and cerebral malaria. He was critically ill, but survived.
After he recovered, Gundhar was sent back to the village. The national media arrived to cover the story. The district administration granted him Rs. 5,000 – a fixed deposit of Rs. 3,000 and Rs. 2,000 in a savings account. And with that they washed their hands of the orphan.
For 19 years, I had wondered what had happened to Gundhar.
Ghamela’s husband had a son, Sushil, from a previous marriage. When she died, he was around 20 years old and working at a road construction site on the Khariar-Bhawanipatna road.
The neighbour told me that Gundhar now works at the Pappu Rice Mill in Tukla village, less than five kilometres from Barlabaheli . His in-laws live in Tukla, she added, and he has a two-month-old baby. His stepbrother works as a haliya (helper) at a nearby farm.
Riding my motorcycle over the ridges of the fields, I found the farm where Sushil was tilling the land owned by his employer. His three daughters and a son were nearby. Sushil, now 40, was unmarried when I had met him following Gundhar's mother’s death. He did not recognise me, but when I reminded him of the stories I had written, he remembered.
Sushil is paid Rs. 4,000 a month, or Rs. 130 per day, on which the family subsists. Some of his kids had clothes on, some did not. Their poverty was evident.
I left for Tukla to meet Gundhar. At the Pappu Rice Mill I met the owner Pappu, and he informed me that Gundhar had gone to his village that day. I went to his in-laws' house where I met his wife Rashmita, who was holding their baby boy, Subham. Her husband had gone to Barlabaheli to clean the house and had been gone a long time, she said.