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Page last updated at 00:27 GMT, Friday, 4 September 2009 01:27 UK

Indian woman fights for 'rape' baby

By Tinku Ray
BBC News, Chandigarh

Nari Niketan
The care home where Lakshmi was allegedly raped

The story of a pregnant teenager has been making the headlines in India.

Lakshmi (not her real name) is 19 years old, but her mental age is said to be only around eight.

She became pregnant after allegedly being raped in a government-run care home, and the state authorities petitioned the local courts to allow them to carry out an abortion.

Their contention was that she wouldn't survive the trauma of childbirth, and that she wouldn't be able to take care of a baby.

That court ruled that an abortion should go ahead.

But then came the twist - her lawyers and several disability rights groups appealed to the Supreme Court. It overruled the original judgement - allowing her to have the baby she said she wanted to keep.

'Clothes for the baby'

Today, Lakshmi lives in a different government-run home in Chandigarh.

At first glance, she seems like a shy girl with a lovely smile whose answers are monosyllabic and barely audible.

Lakshmi had told the high court in Chandigarh that she wanted to keep the baby.

When I asked her if this was so, her answer was the same: "Yes."

So I asked her if she had ever looked after a baby before.

Tanu Bedi
Lakshmi's lawyer, Tanu Bedi, says no one else can decide on her behalf

"Yes," she replied again.

One of the women in the Nari Niketan, the care home where she was allegedly raped, had a baby and Lakshmi said she fed him milk with a spoon and cleaned him up when needed.

Lakshmi was found two years ago wandering the streets of Chandigarh and placed in Nari Niketan.

She was allegedly raped earlier this year and a guard of the care home has been arrested and is awaiting trial.

I asked her nurse if Lakshmi ever talked about what had happened to her.

"At first she was ashamed. When no one knew about it, she didn't talk about it. But now everyone knows and she talks non-stop about her baby.

"And when anyone comes to visit her, she asks them to bring new clothes for the baby. She wants a swing as well."

However, medical professionals who examined Lakshmi said she could not look after a baby. Psychologists say she suffers from "mild mental retardation" and has a low IQ.

Moral questions

"After consultations we thought that since she's mentally challenged, an orphan and has been raped in a government institution... it would be in her interest to have the termination," says Prof Raj Bahadur, director of the Government Medical College in Chandigarh and the man in charge of the shelter where Lakshmi lives.

But Lakshmi's lawyer, Tanu Bedi, disagrees.

"Can we say just because she has a low IQ, anybody can decide for her and against her specific wish to have an abortion, which has the medical complications and problems for all times to come for her health? In my view it would have been a judicial rape."

Anupam Gupta
Mr Gupta questions whether the case should be before the courts

The Supreme Court agreed with Ms Bedi. In its ruling, the court said: "Nature will take care of the orphan mother and child."

There was plenty of outrage at the Supreme Court's decision.

Many questioned whether the law courts were the place to decide such moral and ethical cases.

Lawyer Anupam Gupta fought the case on behalf of the state government. He says even the local judge raised the issue when the case came before him.

"On the very first day when the matter came up before the chief justice, he appeared reluctant to interfere. This is your baby - he wasn't referring to the foetus of course - but in a more metaphorical sense. He said this problem is of your making, don't come to the high court."

But, Mr Gupta says, "because Lakshmi had been allegedly raped while in the state's custody, the authorities had no choice. They had failed to protect her and so approached the court to make a decision on what to do."

'Arbitrary'

The National Trust for the Welfare of persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Mental Disabilities - a government organisation - has offered to take care of Lakshmi and her baby.

It has offered to put her in an independent home, either in the southern city of Bangalore or closer to Chandigarh.

"There she will be able to blossom and develop her life skills," says Poonam Natarajan, who heads the trust.

"The IQ score is very arbitrary in our country. The whole world is only talking about her as eight years old. But she's 19 years old, so her life experience is very different.

"Everyone has the capacity of evolve, the capacity to grow if in the right environment. But somehow in the minds of people when it comes to mental retardation, it's static.

"That is a medical concept that we have to challenge."

A decision on when and where Lakshmi will be sent is to be taken soon.

At the shelter, Lakshmi is looking forward to being a mother - her baby is due in December.

"I want a baby girl," she tells me shyly. And as I prepare to leave, she says: "Please visit me again."



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