At around 9 am on Tuesday, 21 February, a 36-year-old woman stepped out of her apartment in Gurugram. Dressed in a green kurta, and an N-95 mask that was tightly wound around her face and nose, she locked her house, checked it once again.
This was the first time in almost three years that she was leaving her home.
A team of officials from the Gurugram Police, psychiatrists, and Child Welfare Committee officials, were at her doorstep, ushering her into a van and towards Civil Hospital. A few other members of the team had a task at hand.
As they broke open the lock of her house, her 10-year-old son came rushing towards them. Like the woman, he too was well-dressed, and looked physically fit. But the disturbing visuals from the house told another story.
"The boy was sitting on the bed and when he saw us, he came running. The house was in a mess – there was garbage all around, groceries were all over, there was packets of all sorts of things on the floor. But the son was well taken care of, and he is physically fit," a medical officer, involved in the rescue said.
For over 30 months, the mother-son duo, lived in confinement in their apartment, over 'fear of COVID,' before her husband sought help from Gurugram Police.
"She was anxious about her son, who was diagnosed with asthma when he was younger catching the novel coronavirus infection – and decided that strictest of lockdown was the only way to 'keep her son healthy,'" Jaswant Singh, Inspector, Chakkarpur Police Station, located near the woman's house told FIT.
Counselling Via Video Calls – Where Did It All Start
The Gurugram Police were first alerted by the husband, an engineer by profession, over the weekend. At first, the cops thought it was a 'marital issue.'
"We first tried video calling her from her husband's phone. She was resistant, but as we spoke to her, we understood that it was not marital dispute but a medical condition. We involved other experts as well, since this was a crucial rescue," Singh said.
The cops then gathered a team of people – from psychiatrists, experts from the Child Welfare Committee, and medical officers who can aid in the rescue – to devise a counselling and rescue plan.
Praveen Kumar, the investigating officer in the case, told FIT:
"She was fiercely protective of the child – because he already had asthma. So we first had to earn her trust. We told her repeatedly that we are not here to harm her. That COVID restrictions have eased, and life is back to normalcy."
“After the first day, she did not respond well. We told her that the husband is alleging that she had some medical condition and if she wants to take care of her son, se has to prove him wrong. Only then, she agreed to step out," Kumar told FIT.
'The Boy Refused to Remove Mask'
"The mother has been very distressed about the news of COVID-19. She had also told the boy to take necessary precautions, but with ample counselling, they both will become better soon," the medical officer added, recalling how the boy refused to remove his mask for medical test.
"She was terrified that if her son steps out, he may die of COVID. So she had told him not to remove his mask at any cost. But we told him it was okay, and we just wanted to check if he was doing alright, and then he agreed," the officer added.
According to officials, the child was healthy for a 10-year-old, and was well-fed and taken care of.
While the father had taken special permission from his school for him to take online classes, he could not take any tests or examinations.
"The child had zero social contact. He used to attend online classes, and the mother used to teach him. However, he only interacted with his father on video calls," the investigating officer said.
How Did They Manage to Live In Confinement For Three Years
According to Gurugram Police:
The woman started using induction stove for cooking after the two cylinders were exhausted.
She would also reportedly order only packed food items that could be washed in soap.
The husband, an engineer in a private firm, had to take another accommodation on rent nearby – and would keep in touch with is wife and son over video calls.
"He had stepped out for work after the initial lockdown restrictions were lifted. But she did not let him in after that. He waited for this long thinking that she will soon get better," an official who was a part of rescuing team told FIT.
He paid the monthly rent of the house, clear the electricity bills, deposit his son's school fees, buy groceries and vegetables and even leave the bags of ration outside the main door.
The woman has been taken to Rohtak for further counselling and treatment, while the child is undergoing medical tests in Gurugram.