‘Manisha Mandir’, a home at Gomti Nagar in Lucknow, may look normal for a passerby but for orphaned and abandoned girls, it’s a place where they get unconditional motherly love and care.
The origin of the Manisha Mandir lies in a tragic story of a mother ‘Dr Sarojini Agarwal’ losing her daughter—Manisha. She died on April 1, 1978. Sarojini recalls while trying to hold her tears, “I was blessed with two beautiful and healthy sons but desperately wanted a daughter. Later God blessed me with twins, including a daughter. I was very happy but that happiness lasted for a very short while. I lost my beloved Manisha when she was eight and a half years old in an unfortunate road accident when a vehicle hit my scooter near Hazratganj in Lucknow. Manisha, who was sitting on the backseat, had a brain haemorrhage and she died on the spot. In one moment, my life was completely shattered. I was in deep grief for months but later resolved to turn my agony into strength. I made up my mind to start a home for orphans, destitute, and abandoned girls and look where I am.”
Thus, the lady who lost her daughter 30 years ago is now mother to 800 girls. She in a way provided new meaning to the motherhood by extending it to the girls who needed it the most. Out of 800 girls she has rehabilitated, 15 are married. The only driving force perhaps was her unequivocal desire for upbringing a girl child. The same spirit has healed her motherhood scars and now she has no complaints about losing a daughter.
“God had different plans for me. That is why he took away my daughter. He wanted me to be the mother of these hapless children. It was very tough for me to heal my scars but these little girls have changed my life. In every girl, I see my daughter. I thank God for giving me this opportunity to keep her memory alive. She is my inspiration. And now I have hundreds of Manishas”, says Dr Agarwal.
Manisha Mandir is today home for 26 girls, some of these were found abandoned and some were given up as unwanted. Manisha Mandir differs from other orphanages in the sense that it is a true home where orphan and abandoned girls not only get shelter but also get a devote mother who thinks about them day in and day out.
For the girls of Manisha Mandir, Dr Sarojini Agarwal is everything. One of the girls Shalini Bharti said, “I don’t remember when I came here, I just know that Mummy is my world. She is the person whom I love the most. I go to school regularly. Presently, I am studying in class four; Mummy teaches us and takes care of everything related to us.”
On the issue of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Dr Agarwal opines, “Daughters are very sincere. Girls are pillars of the society. A good society needs good mothers. Unfortunately, our society treats girls as a liability but without the daughters, a society can’t be completed.” She also runs Manisha Higher Education Scholarship Programme for the meritorious girl students whose parents can’t afford to continue their education.
She says, “There are many girls who have the potential to make a mark. But circumstances do not favour them. Manisha Higher Education Scholarship Programme helps them in fulfilling their ambitions. My aim is to make helpless girls self-reliant and for that proper education is much needed. Many girls of Manisha Mandir are working in different sectors. Some of them are also working in government sector.”
“I believe that a well brought up girl can bring an end to all the ills of the society. And it can be done by educating them. Education is the only thing that can make you confident and self-reliant. I want to make them strong and confident, so they also make a significant contribution to society. I let girls go only when they are able to stand on their own feet,” Dr Agarwal added.
She also stressed the importance of moral education. Dr Agarwal says, “With education, I also focus on discipline and moral values. Moral values for students are missing in our educational curriculum today. In this fast moving world, Parents barely have enough time for their children. It is the responsibility of parents to guide their children so that they do not go astray. Parents should advocate the teaching of moral values to their children. In real sense, it is the girls who later become mothers and give shape to a society”.
Dr Agarwal’s love for the girls is not limited to providing them with proper food, clothes, and education, she also makes arrangements for their marriage with a suitable groom, if they desire. “They are my daughters and it’s my responsibility to get them married to a person who can take care of her throughout the life,” she says.
On asking how her family took all this and how they supported her in this mission, she said, “My husband and his parents were not much convinced with the idea of opening an orphanage for girls. They said it sounds good theoretically, but not practically. But I decided that I will not give up my dream. Later they helped me throughout. And after seven years of my Manisha’s death, I finally established ‘Manisha Mandir’.”
The journey for Dr Agarwal was not easy. She single-handedly managed the things. Dr Agarawal says, “I never lose my temper whatever may be the situation. I believe in God and think he is always with me and I overcome all the problems. There were many who tried to stop me but I kept on going.”
Now in her late 90s, she is still giving her best but she wants more women to come out for the purpose of humanity. She complains that women come to me and appreciate my work but nobody wants to get involved in the work. With getting older day by day, Dr Agarwal is not sure for how long she will be alive but says she will continue to strive till her last breath and work with the same energy and enthusiasm for her daughters.
Words fall short to describe the sea of motherhood that Dr Agarwal has in her heart. For her enormous work, she has been felicitated by numerous awards including the National Award for Children’s Welfare and Mother India Award for Social Work. But for people like her, the satisfaction they see in the eyes of those helpless girls becoming self-reliant is perhaps the best award.