NEW DELHI — The “Jungle Book”-like tale of a young girl said to have been found living with monkeys in an Indian forest was shocking, disturbing and fascinating. It also appears to have been untrue.
The story of the girl circulated among news outlets around the world in recent days, including The Washington Post, after reports by the Associated Press and the New Indian Express. The girl, according to those reports, was rescued earlier this year by police who found her surrounded by a pack of protective monkeys in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. One police officer speculated that she might have been raised by primates from infancy. She has since been living at a hospital in the city of Bahraich, where the chief medical officer told the AP in a recorded interview that she arrived crawling, eating and screeching like an animal.
But other officials have said it’s more likely the girl was simply abandoned — not years ago but in the days or maybe even hours before she was found.
“There is a high probability that if she was living in the forest, someone would have found her,” JP Singh, the district chief forestry officer in the Katarniya Ghat wildlife sanctuary, told the Washington Post in an interview. “If she has been living in the forest for 8 to 9 years, she could not have survived. There are over one hundred leopards in the sanctuary, and she could not have escaped them.”
The girl was found near a forest outpost in Bahraich district in the state of Uttar Pradesh in January, forest officials said. Villagers coming from a local market found her sitting on the side of a road built inside the sanctuary, and officials said a few monkeys may have been nearby. The villagers immediately called a police help line, because the girl appeared weak and injured. Distrcit police officers who responded then took the girl to the local station, officials said. She was between 9 and 10 years old, wearing a bedraggled dress and underwear and was unable to tell police were she was from, authorities said.
Khurshid Alam, another officer, walks through the sanctuary several times a day and said he never saw the girl on his rounds. “I think she was abandoned near the outpost. The villagers who found her told me that she was wearing clothes. So, she could not have been living in the forest,” Alam said.
In an attempt to find her family, the police released information about the girl to local newspapers, but no one responded. The police suspect that someone from a distant village abandoned her because she has not been recognized by people living in the area.
“That is why we believe she was abandoned. Most probably someone left her in the morning or afternoon of the day we found her. She would not have survived the night there alone,” Ram Avtar Yadav, a station house officer at the Motipur police station, said in an interview.
“She seemed disabled. She could not speak coherently. At the time, we thought her legs were paralyzed, as she was moving with the support of her hands,” he said.
The girl has gained mobility after weeks of recovery at a hospital, but she still has injury marks on her hands, feet and stomach. She has been referred to another hospital for better treatment, according to local news reports.
In an interview with the Guardian, the hospital’s chief medical officer, DK Singh, speculated that the girl might also have been cast off because of another perceived handicap: being a girl in a society that prizes boys.
“Some families value girls less than boys,” Ranjana Kumari, an advocate for young girls, told the Guardian. “They would rather get rid of the girl than spend money on her. It is a lot more responsibility because of the social environment we live in.”
As The Post reported Friday, stories of feral children have long been told in both legend and well-documented reportage. It seems this one might exist somewhere in between — less like a fairy tale and more like a tragedy of neglect and desertion.