13th September 2014 – when Aditya woke up that morning, he had no idea his life was about to change completely. It was his father’s birthday, and he was visiting the Missionaries of Charity orphanage when he saw Binny for the first time – a 6-month-old infant. There seemed to be an immediate connect. He was deeply moved when he heard that Binny had been left at the orphanage by his biological parents, because of his health issues. It was the same reason that he was one of the very few left unadopted at the orphanage. “When his own parents didn’t want him, why would anyone else be interested”, the orphanage officials said. “Everyone wants a healthy and beautiful child”.
It was in that moment, that 26-year-old Aditya knew he wanted to be Binny’s father. It was his childhood dream to adopt a child and now he knew he was about to realise it. What he didn’t know then was the arduous task he was about to undertake.
Read on and be a part of Aditya’s amazing journey …
Breaking age-old biases
What Aditya wanted to do was unusual – it is not everyday that a single man decides to adopt a child. Neither is it common for children with health issues to get adopted. And anything or anyone atypical is not easily accepted by our society. Thus, inadvertently, Aditya began the process of breaking numerous biases.
To begin with, his family wasn’t able to understand why their young unmarried son wanted to adopt a child and that too one with so many health issues, someone likely to be disabled all his life. However, Aditya was unmoved.
The society just could not understand why or how a single man could or would parent an infant. While a single woman adopting a child is now considered praiseworthy – probably thanks to the likes of Sushmita Sen – a single man wanting to adopt a child is considered suspicious or inconceivable!
He had to field off a variety of questions. “this is a woman’s job, you won’t be able to do this”, people told him; “No one would be interested in marrying you, if you adopt a child”, people warned him; “why don’t you focus on your career – why do you want to bring up a baby?, he was asked.”
Even the adoption agency tried to discourage him from adopting Binny – after all, they are part of the same society and carry the same biases. But Aditya dug in his feet. His resolve was stronger than all the biases in this world.
A long and hard struggle
However, convincing his friends and family proved to be much easier than getting through the legalities around the adoption process. When he applied for the adoption, Aditya found out to his surprise that he was not eligible! In a country where legally marriageable age is 18 and 21, the minimum age to adopt a child was 30. Aditya was just 26 at the time!
He decided to take on the legal system – challenged the Govt. on the basis for mandating the age of 30 as the minimum age. The process was not easy, and Aditya fought alone. His struggle took a toll on him mentally, physically and financially. At that time, Aditya was working in Pune while Binny was in Bhopal. He drove down 6-7 times every month – not easy on his pocket – nor on his body and mind.
But his determination paid off – even water can hollow out stone with its persistence. He wrote hundreds of emails and letters, and sent faxes to the Central Government, to the Prime Minister, the President, Maneka Gandhi, Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi, and many more influential people, asking for help and finally managed to connect with Maneka Gandhi (who was at that time Indian Union Cabinet Minister for Women & Child Development). Around the same time, new adoption guidelines were being discussed by the Govt. and finally in August 2015, the government finally introduced a number of changes in the Juvenile Justice Act including lowering the minimum age for adoption to 25 as well as moving the adoption process online. Maneka Gandhi who took special interest in Aditya’s case, immediately directed the adoption agency to give the child to Aditya without wasting anymore time.
After a wait of almost 1.5 years Aditya finally brought Binny home on 1st January 2016 – and named him Avnish. He couldn’t have dreamt of a New Year’s gift better than this.
Love can conquer
“Everyone has their own destiny”, believes Aditya. Avnish was left at the orphanage by his well to do biological parents just because of his condition. But he was probably destined to love Aditya. At the time of his adoption, Avnish had been diagnosed with Down’s syndrome, two holes in his heart, undescended testicles, adenoids and suffered from many other problems such as constipation, solid wax in ears, wobbly knees etc. He was two years old when he came home and had barely hit any developmental milestones till then. He could not walk independently and the only word he could say was papa.
But slowly with the help of one-on-one therapies, patience and care, Avnish started walking within 8 months. The holes in his heart also closed on their own and his health improved. He continues to receive different therapies but is now attending regular school and discovering his many interests and passions.
Sky is the limit
Aditya proudly shares that he is learning parenting from Avnish and is very grateful that Avnish has accepted him. Aditya does not have any expectations from him and together they love to explore new things, new avenues, new options. Avnish loves nature and trekking and the father-son duo have trekked to many places together – Leh, Ladakh, Kashmir. About two years ago, Aditya started to research about special Olympics and Avnish started to take interest in them. He is now an athlete with Special Olympics Bharat.
Encouraged by Avnish’s interest, Aditya planned for them to scale the Everest Base Camp. Avnish went through rigorous training for the same. They started their climb on 13th April and hoisted the flag at Kala Patthar before returning. Avnish is probably the first child with Down’s Syndrome to reach this height.
Reaching beyond – touching lives
Adopting Avnish changed Aditya’s life in many ways. His struggle with the law led to him understand many issues around adoption and child trafficking. I was shocked when he informed me that according to a UNICEF report from 2011, there are about 20-30 million orphans in India (more recent sources put the figure at 50 million), but in CARA the official numbers are only 3,000. When I asked him why, he disclosed that a large majority of orphans are not legally free for adoption. He faced the same with Avnish – and had to fight a minor battle to first get him legally free. This gives rise to illegal adoptions and trafficking of such children – special needs children being one of the most vulnerable categories. Another disturbing fact is that almost 60-70 percent of orphans are those abandoned due to various health conditions. According to Aditya a large part of the blame lies with lack of awareness and acceptance of these medical conditions. Even the medical staff are not aware and, in many cases, do not even know how to break such news to parents or how to counsel them. These issues made Aditya want to do something about them.
Moreover, as their story spread many parents started to reach out to Aditya with various problems. He started to understand the plethora of problems that parents of special needs kids face – starting from basic rights awareness to lack of facilities and health care options. “Only about 10 cities in India have the basic infrastructure to support the needs of people with medical needs”, he says. “The more I spoke to different parents, the more I realized the amount of work that needs to be done”. He resolved to support these parents as much as possible.
Today he volunteers with many organisations and is associated with parents not only in India, but even in the U.K., U.S., U.A.E etc. He has managed to reach lakhs of parents through whatsapp groups, social media, webinars and offline events. In the last one year alone, he gave more than 1,000 offline talks.
Aditya has been an inspiration for many and I hope that he and Avnish continue to break barriers and hold a light to people with various needs. My love and Best Wishes to both of them!
P.S. My heartfelt thanks to Aditya for sharing their story so generously!
I hope you were as inspired by their story as I was – please let me know if you are aware any other inspiring people and I would love to write about them. Would also love to hear about any other topics you would want me to write about.
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