The Happy Home Trust was created to fulfill the needs of Sujit Kumar. The extent of abuse he suffered during his formative years is still unknown.
Sujit’s mother committed suicide in 1977, and his father was murdered and put in the trunk of his own taxi in 1981. His aging grandparents found him left in the middle of the road one night, but could not take proper care of him.
Media reports and the first-hand accounts of neighbors tell us that Sujit was confined with chickens from an early point in his life, and stayed there until Social Workers moved him to the Samabula Old People’s Home in 1979.
When the Superintendent of the old folks home met Sujit, she said, “Sujit would mostly hop around like a chicken, peck at his food on the ground, perch, and make a noise like the calling of a chicken. He would prefer to roost on the floor to go to sleep rather than sleep in a bed.”
She did not find him mentally handicapped. “He was just different to the other little boys because he had been so traumatized and mistreated.”
Even so, his caretakers at the Home tied him to the bed with strips of bed linens. That is where Elizabeth Clayton, incoming President of the Rotary Club of Suva, found him on November 28, 2002. Her account follows.
The Day I Met Sujit
It was the usual pleasant day; the sun was shining and a number of Rotarians gathered at the Samabula Old People’s Home to present a donation of plastic dining tables. I didn’t realize it, but my life was about to change forever.
A Rotarian colleague asked me if I had seen the “chicken boy” who was tied up at the home. My imagination ran wild; someone in the home was being described as a “chicken boy.” He might peck his food and perch like a chicken. How absurd, how disgusting. Surely, in 2002, in Fiji, a reasonably sophisticated developing country, this couldn’t be real?
I studied behavioral science at university, so I knew about wild children, particularly those who had been raised with wolves, confined and isolated from other people. I had previously researched the importance of human contact at the early stages of development and studied the Bowby experiments; I understood the consequences of a deprived environment to the neurology of the child.
I could not come to terms with the fact that I was about to meet a real, wild, feral child who had been confined in isolation for many years.
How could this be? How had he become feral? Why was he tied up still? How old was he? Who did this to him? Why was he here?
I couldn’t stomach any more questions. I needed to get to this boy to see what condition he was in.
I will never forget what I saw next; even now it makes me sick.
The corner of the ward in the far back of the room had nothing pleasant about it. Dirty, paint peeling off the walls, the floor missing tiles, everything covered in mildew – it was a place of isolation.
The glass in the windows had been replaced with Masonite. Someone created a small hole in the corner, so when the smell got too bad the boy could be hosed down and the water, urine, and feces pushed outside.
The bed was an old, high hospital bed, with a flat mattress covered by a yellowed, cracked, plastic cover. An empty powder tin the corner served as a ‘comfort toy’ for this boy. He would jiggle it back and forth erratically out of boredom.
And then there was the ‘Chicken Boy.’ Very disturbed looking, lunging back and forth on a knotted piece of bed linen that tethered him to the wall near his bed.
This is where Sujit Kumar lived his life.
I felt nauseas; so deeply horrified my face quivered around my mouth. He was covered with sores and wore baggy flannel trousers tied to his waist with strips of bed linens. His grey-white t-shirt hung off of him; he looked so small, but so wild.
He had lived at the home for at least 20 years; his head was shorn and the hair on his face was long. Was he a little boy, or an old man?
He tried to bite me when I approached. He had just defecated on the floor and began playing with it. It was all over his face. Could he have been eating his own feces? When he did get fed, he tipped his mushy food onto the floor and pecked at it. He ate much like the chickens he had lived with for the formative years of his life.
How could a boy, raised with animals and tied like an animal, hold any semblance of human behavior?
Was he crippled? No, but he appeared to be.
Was he mad? No, but he appeared to be.
Would he die in that corner?
Was this a hopeless case?
The questions continued; why did this happen to him? What could have been so wrong with him that he was put with chickens? Why didn’t someone—a neighbor, a relative, a passer-by—rescue him? One relative said that at two years old, Sujit looked like a monkey in a cage; a neighbor spoke about feeding him scraps and seeing him in the chicken pen under the house at 4 am, but never informing the authorities.
Is this really an acceptable practice in this country? At least one person, a lawyer in the ombudsman’s office, says it is a cultural thing. There is fear about a child possessing an evil spirit, worsened by the fact that both parents met untimely and aggressive deaths. He may have been born with epilepsy, or maybe suffered an injury after birth. I heard something about a being beaten with a crowbar and being thrown down the steps. He was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy.
That this child survived at all in these conditions is something to marvel at. If he had been given the nurturing environment every child should have would he have risen above whatever unnerved his parents?
Tests show Sujit has normal brain function. It means the environmental deprivation runs deep; untangling 30 or more years without socialization, filled with different kinds of abuse, would be a formidable task.
Is it worth it?
Is any human life worth it?
Of course. This small, thin, wild, unmanageable Indian boy is absolutely worth it.
Elizabeth pulled Sujit out of the wretched state she found him. Now, thanks to countless volunteers and donors, he lives comfortably under her care at The Happy Home. With the support of a team of volunteer therapists, Sujit spends his days working through programs to re-socialize him, teaching him to stand, walk, eat, and otherwise function more like an average human. Doctors oversee his epilepsy, and caretakers make sure he goes through regular daily habits of bathing, shaving and dressing.
Sujit is truly one of a kind. If you ever come to Fiji, stop by for a visit. The dirty “chicken boy” is no more; a clean, comfortably clothed individual has taken his place.
Some traces of his past cannot be erased. He will never learn to speak, his fingers remain crooked from some former injury, and he is still learning the best way to behave.. But he eats with a spoon, drinks from a cup, and lays down in a bed to sleep. He loves to tease and always manages to find a way to tell you what he needs.
It is impossible to say where Sujit might be now if Elizabeth had not come to his aid. The potential futures are too horrific to imagine. We do know that they day Elizabeth and Sujit first met was a day that neither of them will ever forget.