09.12.2022

The Indian family rescued after spending a decade in ‘lockdown’

Speaking to The Independent, a team from the Saathi Seva Group NGO led by Jalpa Patel has described the moment they broke open the door of the house where the family, identified as Ambrish, Bhavesh, and their younger sister Meghna Mehta, believed to be in their thirties and forties, had confined themselves since the year 2010.

“We were tipped off on 27 December that about three people have been living in a room for the past 10 years. When we reached there we found that they had locked the main gate of the house and refused to come out to meet anyone,” Ms Patel said.

Ambrish Mehta and his younger brother and sister had not seen the light of day for a decade. Consumed by grief over the death of their mother, the siblings locked themselves away in a windowless room until their dramatic rescue by volunteers this week.

After trying to gain access for about 25 minutes, volunteers finally managed to break open the door. In a video shared with The Independent by the NGO, it can be seen that they found the eldest brother lying on the floor surrounded by a pile of rags and heaps of paper, while the younger brother was sitting in the corner of the room on a chair. Both the brothers were stark naked, and the sister was the only person who was clothed.

“The room was in such a grim condition that we could not have imagined someone ever living like this in a posh area in the middle of the city of Rajkot in Gujarat state,” said Ms Patel. “There was no washroom in the room and they did not use the one outside. With the stench in the room, you could tell that they attended to nature’s call there itself.”

According to Saathi Seva Group, Ambrish, the eldest of the three siblings, had not unfolded his legs for many months if not years, while Bhavesh suffered from partial memory loss.

“Ambrish could not even feed himself, let alone go to the washroom.  He was skeletal. It was his sister who used to feed the two of them,”  Ms Patel added. “When we entered the room, Meghna kept screaming that ‘we are fine’, when it was quite evident that they were not.”

It was not always like this for the Mehta family, who were relatively well off and highly educated. Their father who had been leaving food outside the room all these years, 85-year-old Navin Mehta, said Ambrish and Bhavesh had degrees in economics and law respectively, while Meghna had completed a masters in psychology.

Bhavesh’s friend Vimal Patel, 43, told The Independent the middle sibling had been an accomplished cricketer. “When we were kids, I used to play cricket with him and we used to study together. He was always a quiet and a reserved kid but it was since their mother died, about a decade back, that they stopped going out and meeting anyone.

“I had gone to meet him, a couple of weeks after his mother died. He did not come to see me. I asked his paternal uncle if Bhavesh cried at her funeral. He did, his uncle told me. So, I left him alone,” said Mr Patel.

“You know, Bhavesh wanted to study further and start his own business. He had told me that he wanted to do a masters. I never imagined something like this would happen to him.”

Volunteers say the siblings’ father kept them alive and indeed tried to convince them to leave the room, albeit unsuccessfully. Eventually he despaired of changing a situation he believed was beyond his control.

“We spoke to their father, who was himself an official in a government office,” Ms Patel said. “He believes that someone has done some kind of black magic on them. He told us that their mother had been ill since 1986 and believed that someone had jinxed her too.

“He said that he took them to doctors but nothing seemed to work. Since he felt that they had been hexed, he feared that some harm might befall his children. So he let them be in the house,” said Ms Patel. The octogenarian would deliver the meals prepared by his sister, living in another house.

“He would leave the tiffin outside the room along with a newspaper. If the siblings felt like eating, they would, otherwise the food would be left lying there. However, they would always collect the newspaper,” said Ms Patel. “In fact, when we were cleaning the room, we cleared about three trucks of newspapers that they had accumulated in the room in the past decade,” she added.

After their rescue, the three siblings’ matted heads of long hair were shaved and the brothers shaved. They are now residing with their paternal aunt while the NGO seeks official support.

“The three of them are under psychiatric review at a government hospital in Rajkot. Ambrish has not spoken a word and is being treated for his physical ailment,” Ms Patel said, adding that while Meghna is responding well, they are trying to help Bhavesh reintegrate back into the society by reintroducing him to his childhood friends circle. “Since he is suffering from memory loss, we are taking it slowly,” Ms Patel explained.

“When he saw me first, he kept staring at me. I think, he recognised me but could not recall my name, so he kept staring,” said Mr Patel, the boyhood friend. “But we played cricket together after ages, and it was nice.”

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