For a family in Uttar Pradesh, India, laying their stillborn child to rest in a cremation ground in Bareilly was a harrowing yet ultimately uplifting experience. Hitesh Kumar and his wife, Vaishali, were at the cemetery in the process of burying their own daughter’s remains when the laborer they had hired happened to unearth a pot about 3 feet underground from which they could hear the noises of a living baby.
“At one point I thought that my daughter had come alive,” Kumar told The Times of India. After realizing instead that the cries were those of a live baby girl wrapped up in a cloth inside the pot, the alarmed father contacted the authorities. “I immediately called [an] ambulance and informed [the] police to ensure that her life was saved.”
The baby was rushed to a local hospital for urgent care.
She was barely breathing and was rushed to the district hospital in a critical condition.
Spokesperson Abhinandan Singh said the Bareilly police “are trying to find the parents of the baby and we suspect that this must have happened with their consent,” per The Independent.
Hitesh Sarohi said that he fed the starving baby a bit of milk through a wet cloth, per the Telegraph, before the ambulance was able to come pick her up. Once at the hospital, staff swung into action to try to save the infant, who has been named Sita in honor of the Hindu goddess. In some versions of the ancient Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana, Sita is said to have been found by King Janak in the furrows of a recently plowed field, echoing the discovery of the buried baby.
Despite suffering from a lung infection, the tiny baby managed to cling to life. “She was a premature baby, possibly born at 30 weeks, and weighed a mere 1.1kg which is a very low birth weight,” chief pediatrician from the hospital’s Special Newborn Care Unit Dr. Saurabh Anjan told BBC.
As for how to explain her miraculous survival, Dr. Anjan explained to Times of India that premature babies have less developed lungs; therefore, their oxygen requirements are less than full-term newborns. Additionally, Dr. Anjan stated that Sita must have been “receiving some oxygen when buried in the grave through the pores in the soil which was possibly loose because the grave was fresh.”
Dr. Ravi Khanna, who is now in charge of the girl’s care, explained to BBC that “babies are born with fat on their abdomen, thigh and cheek and they can survive on it in an emergency for some time. Once she exhausted that, she shrivelled up—as you can see in her photograph.”
Regardless, the baby girl is clearly a trooper. She arrived at the hospital with hypothermia, and her temperature was only 35°C (95°F), according to the BBC, well below normal levels. After putting her on oxygen, the next order of business was to get her to accept medication to fight the lung infection and then direct feeding to help her put on weight.
After being stabilized, Sita was transferred to a pediatric hospital with better equipment. “She is being kept in the intensive care unit and is being fed fluids through a tube,” Dr. Ravi Khanna told the BBC. The ability of her compromised immune system to fight off the infection remained the main concern. “Her condition is critical. Her platelet count has dropped to 10,000 while the normal range is 150,000 to 450,000,” he added.
While Sita fights for her life with the help of the hospital staff, state politician Rajesh Kumar Mishra from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) helped pay for her hospital expenses and expressed his intentions to adopt her upon recovery.
“I believe that god has saved her life and sent her to me. Now it’s our duty to do everything for her,” Mishra said. “She is oscillating between life and death. Once she recovers, I will take her home and raise her as my daughter.”
Authorities say it's likely a case of female infanticide, as girls are considered an expensive burden for families in India.
As for the investigation into the abandonment of the baby, no culprits have been identified as of yet. The guard for the burial site told the Times of India that he had not witnessed anyone burying a pot prior to Sita’s unearthing. “I had not seen anyone with a baby in the cremation ground throughout the day and she must [have been] buried several hours ago,” the guard said.
The Station House Officer of the Subhashnagar police station said his officers “were trying to identify the person who buried the baby girl alive.” He added, “We are checking the CCTV footage of the cremation ground.”
A police spokesperson said, “We will take strict action against those who have buried the infant alive,” per The Telegraph.
Sadly, the practice of selectively aborting or abandoning baby girls persists in certain parts of India, especially in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The sub-district of Bareilly, where Sita was found, has an incredibly low 0.88 female-to-male ratio, meaning only 887,000 women are born for every 1 million men, according to Indian census figures.
Despite a nationwide Indian law banning sex-selective abortion in 1994, the practice continues illicitly in places where families prefer boys at all costs. Dr. Neelam Singh, a gynecologist in Uttar Pradesh, states, “This is a national problem, but more cases come from the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
“In many cases, the culprits are let off due to political and bureaucratic pressures.”
As for the adoptive father-to-be Mishra, he told the BBC, “I don’t know what was the compulsion of her biological parents that they abandoned her and buried her, all I can say is that what they did was not right.”
He continues to visit the hospital every day and hopes that Sita will manage to defy the odds. “I believe the entire world is praying for her survival, for her good health,” he said.