A Questionable Indian Adoption

Roopali’s Story

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Life in my Indian Village

I was born in 1991 and in 1999, I ran away from my Nayakund Village in Nagpur District, State of Maharashtra. I had discovered 50 Rupees (ie 0.5 AUD) on the table of the neighbour’s house and together with my brother and sister (Rajkumar and Sanchali), we spent it on lollies and toys. We got in big trouble and the incident caused quite a racket for my father and mother because the neighbours shouted accusations that we children were being trained as thieves. The big fight amongst the adults and my parents scared my sister alot and she wanted to see the train as a distraction. I followed her. We walked about six kilometres from the village to the nearest town Mansar. We continued exploring by foot to the nearby larger town of Ramtek, which had a train station and bus depot.

The Remand Home for Girls

It was evening time and the sun was setting. The train suddenly took off with us in it as we had been  exploring the seats of the train. We were scared and excited but I was the braver for I had been on a train before. My sister’s excitement died when we got to Nagpur railway station. We tried to look for a train home but it was dark and there were no more trains at the station. We sat on a station bench and my sister fell asleep on my lap. I dosed off as well.

We were awoken by Indian police on patrol. They took us to the Nagpur Police station and from there questioned us, asked our names and about our family and where we were from. They then took us to a Girls Remand Welfare home for an overnight stay until morning.  The police sent out a messenger to our village to come and get us from the city Amravati Remand home. I was told my mother and father were coming to get us soon.

A year and six months passed and I was distressed wondering why my mother and father did not come as the seasons changed. The girls at the remand home became accustomed to us and they stole my sister from me. They adored her and would not let me care and look after her. They made me clean her and groom her. If I refused, they would beat me up. The care takers took our clothes and locked them away. We were given a new dress that I had to wash and mend until my time of leaving. The care takers beat us up when we rebelled to be let out of the building and we were forced to sing and pray and had to listen and follow rules. Punishment was death.

In August 2001, two strangers came claiming to be our relatives. They took us away from the Remand home on a long journey that took us night and a day. They were not my parents and I did not know them. I told the care takers this and they said we were going to a good place, that my sister will be better cared for because they were not trained to look after young children. The female care taker from the Remand home tried to convince me to let my sister go with our “relatives” and that I should stay as I was much older. They were taking her to a new place in Pune called Preet Mandir Unit 2 (Anand Foundation, Home for Abandoned Children). I kicked and screamed and refused to let my sister out of my sight. I told them,  “You can’t take my sister, my father would beat me up if I lose her!” I would be in huge trouble. They could not calm me down and eventually let me go with her to the new place, along with another small girl also named Rupali. I knew both my parents inside out and it crossed my mind that something must have happen to them as to why they didn’t come get us. I was terrified as I was going further away from home then ever before and I would not be able to remember my way back home. I memorised the names of locations and kept a detailed image memory of everything I saw and what happen to me from then on.

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Preet Mandir Orphanage Life – Trauma, Abuse and Neglect

Preet Mandir was not like home. It was a more confined place where children were kept in each level of the building, separated by age. They tried to take my sister to the second floor for toddlers as she was very small and needed care. I refused to let her go. We were able to stick together but it meant we slept on a foam mattress, stained with urine yellow marks and smelling ghastly. It was an awful experience as I was accustomed to clean blankets, not iron metal bunk beds with rails, handles and ladders. This place felt more like a jail rather than school as everyone was controlled and had to follow strict rules. Punishment for breaking rules involved being striped naked and embarrassed in front of everyone, made to say horrible things about them and then being beaten up so we would behave as required by the “mothers” i.e., care takers.

I could not tolerate seeing my sister starving. She would always ask for our mother and want a drink of milk. She would beg and cry for a glass of warm milk and biscuits. She refused to eat her meals of rice and curry. She would dump her food on my plate and take the biscuits and lollies that I saved for her. Being the oldest wasn’t easy and I cared for my sister to the best of my ability. I felt I could not fail her out of fear for her being beaten up for crying, not eating, not sleeping at the right time, and causing mischief.

For years, no-one took me seriously whilst I was in the orphanage. I told everyone about my little brother, my dad and family, the village, the river and the school that I went to. No-one believed me. To them I was telling lies to seek attention and I was often called liar. In the orphanage nursery, I failed to read as my vision was bad and I was put on heavy medication that made me so dizzy I fell off the stairs. I had to take my medication with milk each night for a week. The orphanage nurse said I had to stop taking medication after that as it was very strong stuff made for adults. I was told I should be well soon enough because I was to be adopted. I was not well and had chicken pox and sore tonsils. I watched other children getting adopted by Americans and I thought I would be going to America too. Everyone had idealistic wishful thinking and everyone thought white people would buy us nice things, live in luxurious houses and give everything our birth families could not afford. It was assumed adoptive families would treat children nicely, not beating them up. The thought of this made my sister happy. She didn’t like being beaten up and wanted to be adopted by white people. I, on the other hand, wanted to go back home to my village, to my brother and my friends at school. I was going to be in year 3 class and with the same teacher. If I went to school each day my dad would not beat me up and I would get to take home money and bags of rice as a reward for attending school.

Birth Parents Visit Preet Mandir Orphanage

I wish I had died the day my birth parents came and brought the news. They had to cancel the search at the village for us, their two missing girls – because they had lost my brother to a dog bite. It was an accident, the dog was loose and it had attacked and killed a few other villagers. My father told me this. I barley recognised him for he was skinny and sickly with red eyes. He was unwell and for once, wasn’t mad at me. He let me sit next to him on the bench in a small room downstairs by the window of the orphanage. He told me my brother had died and if I could come with him he would stop fighting with my mother, buy me a new uniform for school and look after me by working on a farm. He said my grandmother and everyone at the village missed us and he missed me alot. He said he was sorry that he hurt me, could I forgive him and go home. I said yes. I wanted to go home with my mother and father.

It broke my heart that in the next few days my Australian adoptive parents came to collect us and my birth father was fighting down stairs with the office lady saying he’s not going home without me. I started crying watching my father lose his temper. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my mother and father as the office lady told me my adoptive parents would be taking us to Australia and that my real dad could not pay for the care that they (the orphanage) had already provided us with education, health and the well being of my sister and me over the past few years.

I was adopted to Australia in 2003 at the age of 12.

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Finalised Adoption – Meeting my Adoptive Parents

I was shocked when I saw my adoptive parents with two tan coloured boys. I thought it was strange that they called my new adoptive parents “mum” and “dad”. I was very protective of my sister. She threw tantrums and said she had changed her mind and wanted to go back home to our Indian biological mother. I could not control her but just watched and dreaded my future life which was uncertain. How was I going to live with a new family, speak English and make new friends, go to school and be happy? I could not communicate with my adoptive mum and dad as I could not speak English. I struggled to listen and I gave everyone blank looks and grabbed my sister close behind me when they came near. I stayed close to my sister for the first few weeks of the adoption meetings in India. It felt like my life was over and I had lost my battle in being Indian.

The Reactions After Adoption

Life was difficult for both of my adoptive parents. I recall their breaking communication with me. My sister quickly adjusted to the new norms of the family, made friends with my brothers who were adopted from Thailand. I was very insecure and unstable about having more siblings as they were older than me whereas all my life as far as I could remember, I was the oldest. So I resented having brothers rival me in age. This situation became difficult for my adoptive parents as I always rebelled about doing things and having to wait my turn as the third child. I threw tantrums, went to the park outside the house, climbed up to the tree top and refused to come down for dinner.

I took all the old pots and pans from the shed and told my mum and dad that I was going to take them with me and swim back to India – back to my biological mother and father and give these to them. I didn’t quite say it all in English. At this stage I had English and Hindi mixed with Marathi as I spoke few different languages. I swore at my brothers alot when my adoptive parents were at work and left us home with baby sitters. I would take every moment to prove I was much older than they and that they should listen to me. I would attack next closest in age brother, Jamie. He had a hard time with me. We always had disagreements. My sister on the other hand, was quite happy learning new things from the older brother Yanni. He was gentler and understanding at times and would calm me and Jamie down.  Maxine, the case worker, came and did reports at the park and I would always attack my brothers for being older and want her to address only me, not them. I was always fairly headstrong and stubborn.

When my sister and I arrived, we were malnourished and had worms. My adoptive parents fixed our health issues so that we could have second chance with a healthier life. Their goal was to give us better opportunities for our education and future wellbeing. My adoptive parents hung in and tried to be there for my sister and I through all the good and the bad that we had as a family. I faced immense struggles – from the changes in  language and name, to disciplining me and adjusting to life different to the one I had lived in India. Most of our conflict stemmed from my early memories of my first life in India. To this day, my parents lack of understanding about our different cultures, religions and family norms has been difficult for me. The expectations they placed on me threw me into the deep end resulting in post traumatic stress disorder. Later, this developed further into diagnosed borderline personality disorder and I’ve become a very different person from who I was in India.

Leaving Adoptive Family & Struggling Through Adolescence

As I approached 17 years of age, I couldn’t cope any longer with life within my adoptive family. I moved out of home when I was almost 18 years old. I accessed my adoption file with help from Relationship Australia, Post Adoption Support Service (PASS) and was appointed a caseworker. Together we have journeyed, facing interesting dramas in our interactions with the media and experiencing joy in my accomplishments at TAFE. My case worker also supporting me during my suffering with mental health crises when I was admitted to hospital from the stress and pressures of life. I suffered an identity crisis trying to figure out who I am and to which country I belong. This is an ongoing issue.

When I moved out of my adoptive family home, I had to learn independent living skills. I was assisted by a youth connections programme, Centacare and a youth homeless service. I received counselling from various psychologist and psychiatrists through this period of my life. I have been living out of home now for about for six years.

Since Then

I can’t believe that this is my story and it really did happen. For those who had a ‘rough edge of knife’ adoption, I hear you! My adoption case was one of being trafficked via coercion and trickery. My biological parents did not give me or my sister up for adoption. They were not told what adoption really meant. They were pressured into giving a thumb impression on a piece of paper that said my sister and I would be getting “high-end education and schooling until the age of 18, after which they could then come and get us.”

The piece of paper with my father’s thumb print was in fact relinquishment papers. I was there and I witnessed as he thumb printed but I know he was not given any other choice given the “debt” he owned Preet Mandhir for having provided for us. Pictures of both my family together were taken to add to the file that Preet Mandir kept. I was not an orphan and both my parents were alive, married, and together at the time of my adoption in July 2003. My parents had no other choice.

Roopali with Mother

Reunion with My Mother in India

It has been two years since I reconnected with my mother in India. I reunited with her in 2014 and at this time, found out the tragic news that my birth father, uncle and grandmother had passed away. My mother is now a heavy alcoholic and can’t control her temper. I have a new stepfather who works on an oranage farm at the village in Nayakund, Nagpur region of India.

Whilst this saddens me, my mother has had made my reunion one to remember showing me the motherly love she still has for me. Her sweet voice! And gosh, we even have the same feet and share the same short sighted vision. We are both headstrong and my birth mother is scared of me as I remind her of my birth father. I love my birth mother to bits and all my family that I have reconnected with and try to remain in contact with.

My adoption did not end up how I dreamt it to be but I have made for myself a new life with meaning. I have a second chance to strive for my goals in life to become a successful woman. My adoptive parents have tried to give their undying love and patience for being there for me, even though I rejected them so many times and in spite of our difficult connection. I understand now they are family and I have two families.

Ending Thought

I have learnt it is okay to forgive people for their mistakes but it’s not okay to live with guilt for something you haven’t done wrong and is out of our hands.

My adoption ruined for me a beautiful life in India but it also gave me many more opportunities here in Australia. I have come a long way and have had many rough patches of life as a child. As an adult, I have grown to learn, love, respect and honour my two families. We may have our differences in in our headstrong opinions and different backgrounds but we are only human.

I now stand on my own two feet, proud to be dual citizen of both nations.

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