Looking into her baby’s eyes, Kanon Sarkar was overjoyed to be holding her healthy newborn baby girl. She had a button nose and deep dark brown eyes. But within minutes doctors swept her away suddenly revealing she had heart problems, claiming she needed urgent surgery.
That was the last time Kanon saw her baby alive.
A few hours later a doctor announced the baby had died.
Two years on that same doctor has been arrested for allegedly being involved in a baby trafficking ring in Kolkata, eastern India, and now Kanon suspects her baby was one of his victims.
‘I had her inside of me for nine months and all five ultrasound reports were normal,’ Kanon, 26, said. ‘I delivered her, she was healthy. I even breastfed her. Then she died? It doesn’t make sense. I’m convinced my baby was stolen and sold.’
Last month the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), in Kolkata, learned of a baby trafficking ring. They raided a nursing home in Baduria, 80km from Kolkata, and rescued three newborn babies from a cardboard biscuit box. The babies were meant to be sent to a charity in the neighbourhood and sold to childless couples.
Since then, another 13 babies – 10 girls and three boys – have been rescued, three clinics have been shut down and so far 20 people arrested, including doctors, nurses, midwives, middlemen, and clerks who allegedly faked adoption certificates.
When Kanon heard the news on TV and recognised the clinic and names of the doctors she felt like all her suspicions had finally been explained.
Her husband Ashish Sarkar, 37, a daily labourer, went straight to the local police station to register their story.
‘I can’t stop thinking about my baby girl,’ she said. ‘I always knew something was wrong, I’d always felt like something wasn’t quite right but I had nothing, no proof, no explanation.’
‘Now, I can’t stop thinking about the possibility my daughter is still alive.’
Kanon, who already has another daughter nine-year-old Ananya Sarkar, went into labour on July 13, 2014, at her home in a village, 60kms from Kolkata.
Ashish called their doctor Dr Tapan Biswas. He said: ‘Some of our relatives had recommended him and said he was great so we decided to use him as our doctor.’
Ashish called him their ‘family doctor’. And although he had no formal qualifications, he had been carrying out deliveries for as cheaply as 3,500 rupees (£40), as health care in India is paid for.
Dr Tapan Biswas arrived at the house and quickly suggested Kanon be admitted at hospital to give birth.
At 5am on July 14, 2014, Kanon gave birth naturally to her second daughter at Matri Mangal Hospital, in Kolkata.
Kanon remembered: ‘Everything was wonderful. My mother had made clothes, the family were starting to celebrate, everything was perfect.
‘Suddenly a nurse came and said a specialist wanted to give my baby a check-up. We were ok with that. But after just a few minutes the doctor entered and said our daughter had heart problems and needed surgery.’
‘We of course believed them. We were devastated.’
Kanon and her baby were transferred to Moharananado Bramhachari Sishu Seva Pratisthan for surgery.
But the following day Kanon was told her baby had died.
‘I couldn’t believe it,’ she said. ‘It was a horrific moment. My husband couldn’t even tell me properly. We were in complete shock. I was shattered. I cried. I screamed. I couldn’t accept it. Not a single day passed when I didn’t feel empty within.’
The couple were given a baby’s body to take home for a traditional Hindu ceremony but both Kanon and Ashish believe they were given another baby.
Ashish said: ‘My cousin actually picked up the body and took it home for us. And even he said it was like a different baby, a lot smaller and very frail.’
‘It was not the baby my wife had delivered.’
A CID official, who did not want to be identified, said that one of the 20 people arrested has admitted to being involved in baby trafficking for over 36 years in West Bengal.
He said: ‘These babies have been used as commodities and sold on the basis of complexion, weight and looks. A boy was sold for over Rs 200,000 while girls were cheaper based on the darkness of their skin and appearance.
‘We’ve been told there’s a foreign buyer but we are currently investigating that. So far there is no evidence but we found Euros, US dollars and Hong Kong dollars hidden at the residence of the arrested.’
Chairperson of West Bengal Child Welfare Commission, Ananya Chatterjee, said: ‘Adoption laws are very stringent. Doctors know babies can be illegally adopted. A lot of money is involved. If the seller is guilty then the buyer is equally guilty. This has possibly been going on for over 20 years. If we assume 100 babies a year, 2000 babies have been trafficked so far.’
Kanon is now praying she will one day be reunited with her baby.
‘I’m living for the day to see my daughter again. To know she could still be alive somewhere will make me fight every battle to get her back.’