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SAGA CORNER

Mowgli: Did Feral Children Exist in India?

Article136.png”” alt=””Article136″” />Mowgli, the wolf-child raised by a pack of wolves in the blockbuster The Jungle Book, based on Rudyard Kipling’s timeless stories on the book, has raised a significant question: whether the feral children really existed in India. A feral child is a human child who has lived in the company away from human contact from a very young age and has little or no experience of human care, loving or social behaviour and crucially of human language and grows up with wild animals and such children continued to shock the world with their sudden appearance in forests. Mowgli has always evoked a sense of wonder and curiosity among readers and more recently when the John Favreau-directed film The Jungle Book hit the theatres across India.

Was Mowgli real? Did a boy like him really exist in some remote forest in India living with wolves. Was Kipling’s story some real-life incident?

Probably the best known and widely published story of feral children in India, was that of two girls Amala and Kamala, claimed to have been recovered from a wolf-den in 1920 in the then undivided Bengal’s Midnapore district. The story goes, a local priest, Joseph Amrito Lal Singh saw a mother wolf and cubs, two of whom had long, matted hair and looked human. After considerable preparations and difficulties the two human ‘creatures’ were captured. They turned out to be girls. The ‘creatures’ were taken to an orphange in Midnapore, where the Reverend and his wife were stationed. Singh described them as “”wolfish”” in appearance and behaviour.

He said the girls walked on all four and had calluses on their knees and palms in doing so. In September 1921, both girls became ill and Amala, the younger died. The story attracted attention and debate. After the news broke out, anthropologists and doctors cast doubts on its veracity as the account was reported and promoted by one source, Singh himself, who claimed to have discovered the girls. Finally, a French surgeon Segre Aroles, concluded in his book L’ Engime Des Enfants Loups (Enigma of wolf children) that the story was a hoax.

Then the best account of wolves nurturing children in their dens, is contained in a obscure pamphlet printed at Plymouth in 1852 with a title “” An Account of Wolves Nurturing Children In Their Dens.”” The author of this pamphlet was Major General Sir W H Sleeman. This pamphlet had detailed six cases of wolf-children excerpts of which were produced in Sleeman’s journey through the kingdom of Oude in 1849-1850. What Sleeman wrote was “” wolves are numerous in the neighbourhood of Sultanpoor and indeed all along the banks of the Goomtee river, among the ravines that intersect them, and a great many children are carried off by them from towns, villages and camps.””

Sleeman’s writings on the whole gives an idea how numerous wolves were in the then Oudh (Awadh). So severe were the depredations they carried out that Sleeman says that a particular kind of nomads used to make a living by selling of gold and sliver braclets, necklaces and other ornaments which were worn by the children, whom the wolves carry to their dens and devour and left at the entrance of these dens. Sleeman says in February 1850, a wolf-boy was found in Chandour, ten miles from Sultanpoor and caught. “”There is now (February 1850) at Sultanpoor, a boy, who was found alive in wolf’s den about two years and a half ago. A trooper was sent by the native Governor of the district to Chandour, to demand payment of some revenue, was passing along the bank of the river near Chandour about noon, when he saw a large female wolf leave her den, followed by three whelps and a little boy. The boy was on all fours and seemed to be on the best possible terms with the old dam and the three whelps and the mother seemed to guard all four with equal care; they all went down the river and drank water, without perceiving the trooper, who sat upon the banks watching them.

As soon as they were about to turn back, the trooper pushed on to cut off and secure the boy, but he ran as fast as the whelps could, and kept up with old one. The ground was uneven, and the trooper’s horse could not overtake them. They all entered the den and the trooper assembled some people from Chandour with pickaxes and dug into the den. When they dug out six or eight feet, the old wolf bolted with her three whelps and the boy. The trooper mounted and followed by the fleetest young men of the party, who secured the boy and let the old dam and her three cubs go on their way.”” Sleeman recounts the men took the boy to the village and had to tie him for he was very restive and struggled hard to rush into every hole or den they came near. The boy growled and snarled. He rejected when any cooked meat was put near him, but when any raw meat was offered, the boy seized it with avidity, put it on the ground under his hands, like a dog and ate it with evident pleasure. The boy was handed over to the Raja of Hasunpoor, who then handed him over to one Captain Nicholett, the officer in charge of the First Regiment of Oude Local Infantary of Sultanpoor. The boy lived under the care of the Captain’s servants for almost two years and suddenly died in August 1850.

At Chupra, twenty miles east from Sultanpur, a wolf boy was caught in 1849 when his wolf family came out of the jungle and go down the stream to drink water. He was later identified based on his birthmark and a hot-water scald mark, as a cultivator’s son had been lifted by a she-wolf from the village almost six years ago. In 1843, a shepherd of the village Ghutkoree, 12 miles from the cantonments of Sultanpur, saw a boy walking on all the fours by the side of a wolf, as he was out of the flock. The boy was caught with great difficulty and escaped into the jungles when the shepherd was asleep. In 1867, hunters near Bulandshahar rescued a young boy from a wolf-den and took him to Agra Medical Missionary Training Institute. He was christened Dina Sanichar, the boy who was born on Saturday as he was brought to the Missionary on a Saturday.

According to Valentine Ball, a pioneer geologist working with the Geological Survey of India, an accomplished ornithologist, wrote the most detailed portrait on Sanichar in his book Jungle Life in India (1880) and said Sanichar was the only known wolf-boy who survived into adulthood and died due to tuberculosis in 1895. Despite more than 20 years at the orphanage, nobody could get him to speak, but they did manage to train him to wear clothes and eat cooked food. Two cases were reported elsewhere, one from Shahjahpur (1858) attested by two different military officers and another at 1860-1861.

The most talked about was the case in 1972, when Shamdeo, a four year old boy, was discovered in the forests. He had dark nails, sharp teeth and fingernails that looked like hoods. The boy had severely matted hair and tough calluses on his elbows, knees. The boy enjoyed hunting chickens and bonded with dogs fast. He never learned to speak and did some sign languages and was admitted to Mother Teresa’s Home for the Destitute and Dying and died in 1985. The boy was found in the forest Musafirkhana, 20 miles from Sultanpur. One may wonder, why almost always boys, aged between eight and 12 years of age and not a single case of wolf-man, that was reported.

Saleeman offers an explanation. He says that after some time, the boys either die from living exclusively on animal food, before they attain the age of manhood or are destroyed by the wolves themselves, or other beasts of prey in the jungles, from whom they are unable to escape. Over the centuries, many stories of feral children have been told, fortunately virtually all of them have later been revealed as hoax. Feral children–if they ever existed– are relics of the past. Yet, the stories remain with us. Part of the reason, feral children have long captured the public’s imagination is that they symbolise humanity’s ambiguous relationships with other animals.”

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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