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Slapped, pinched, beaten unconscious — how Surat babysitter now in custody ‘abused’ 8-month-old

Surat: It is a fear that haunts many working parents, forced to leave their children in the care of hired help — that they will return home to find their child neglected or in tears due to a “careless” or “abusive” babysitter. And though in most cases these fears prove to be unfounded, for one couple in Surat, the nightmare became real this month, and the trauma is far from over.

On 4 February, one of Mitesh and Shivani Patel’s eight-month old twins, Nirvaan, was allegedly repeatedly tossed on the bed, slapped several times and had his ears pinched by his babysitter. Unable to bear the alleged torture, the baby lost consciousness and became unresponsive. It was then, the Surat-based family claims, that the baby sitter, Komalben Tandlekar, called Shivani Patel and told her about the baby’s condition. Both parents were away at work at the time.

Nirvaan was rushed to the hospital and is currently being treated for brain haemorrhage and internal brain injuries at Surat’s Anand Hospital, which specialises in caring for infants and children.

The family claim they came to know of the alleged torture meted out by the babysitter to Nirvaan when they checked footage from the CCTV camera installed at the house. ThePrint has accessed the CCTV footage.

The Patels then filed a police complaint against 26-year-old Tandlekar. The accused was sent to 14-day judicial custody Monday and the case is being probed by Rander police station’s Adajan area division. ThePrint also has a copy of the FIR.

“We have booked the accused under the sections 307 (attempt to murder) and 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), based on the CCTV footage. Currently, she (Tandlekar) is under judicial custody and we will further interrogate her. Other IPC sections may be added if needed,” Z.R. Desai, ACP (G division), Adajan, Surat Police, told ThePrint.

ThePrint made repeated phone calls and sent text messages to the accused’s husband, Ravibhai Tandlekar, but there was no response till the time of publication of this report.

Meanwhile, the Patel family members are both angry and distraught. “Initially, the babysitter was fine, but I don’t know what happened to her that day and she beat up the baby so badly. The baby fell unconscious and is very critical,” Nirvaan’s grandmother Kalaben Patel told ThePrint.

Also read: Physical punishment doesn’t improve children’s behaviour, makes it worse, study in Lancet says

‘We knew the caretaker so trusted her’

Mitesh and Shivani Patel became parents to twin sons — Nirvaan and Nirmaan — about eight months ago.

Born prematurely in May 2021, the babies weighed only about 700-800 grams, far less than the 2.5 kg-to-4.5 kg range that’s considered normal for a newborn baby. The two had to be kept in an incubator for two months, before being allowed to come home with their parents.

Since the Patels are a working couple — Mitesh works as a physical training (PT) teacher at a school and Shivani is a professor in ITI college — they opted to employ a babysitter for the twins in September last year.

Shivani is at work between 10.30 am to 12.30 pm, so the babysitter would take care of the twins between 8 am and 1 pm, the family told ThePrint. Mitesh’s mother, Kalaben, lives next door to the couple, but she is a social worker and is often busy.

The Patels chose Tandlekar, they said, because she was known to the family and was the wife of one of Mitesh’s colleagues.

The Patels' residence in Surat | Photo: Purva Chitnis | ThePrint
The Patels’ residence in Surat | Photo: Purva Chitnis | ThePrint

“When Mitesh discussed our need for a babysitter with his friend, Ravibhai, he suggested that his wife could take care of the babies, since the family needed money,” said Shivani.

According to Amit Patel, Mitesh’s elder brother, the Patels paid Komalben Tandlekar Rs 3,500 per month for her services.

“We trusted her because she was my husband’s friend’s wife, and between September and December, when I was completing my maternity leave, she behaved well,” Shivani told ThePrint.

But according to the family, for about 15-20 days before the alleged assault on Nirvaan, neighbours would tell them the babies were crying a lot when they were alone with the accused.

“When our neighbours told me that the babies cry a lot, I told my son that we need to monitor the house. Initially, he did not listen to me, since they trusted her (the babysitter). But finally, he installed a CCTV camera on my insistence,” Kalaben said.

‘Taunted for not having a baby’

According to police officers investigating the case, Tandlekar’s alleged abuse of the baby “probably” stemmed from her frustration at not having a child herself. ACP Desai told ThePrint that the accused has been married for nearly six years, but doesn’t have any children yet.

“There was clear frustration in Komalben’s behaviour. Maybe even social pressure, since she did not have any child even after being married for many years,” Desai claimed. According to the officer, the accused’s mother-in-law would often taunt her for not having a baby yet.

According to the police, the initial probe has shown the accused did not have any past criminal record, but ACP Desai also spoke of the importance of a background check while hiring help, especially where children are involved.

“It is important that whenever one keeps a caretaker, a background check must be done, which wasn’t followed in this case. If one can’t do it themselves, please get in touch with the police,” Desai appealed.

‘Stable, but critical,’ says doctor of the baby

Anand Hospital, where Nirvaan is currently admitted, was also where he and his brother, Nirmaan, were treated after their premature birth.

Dr Pratik Shah, who specialises in child ICU care and is treating Nirvaan, told ThePrint that the baby is “stable, but critical”.

“When the child was admitted, his condition was very bad, as he suffered internal brain injuries. His heartbeat and blood pressure were irregular and he was hence put on ventilator,” said Shah.

Not only does he continue to be on ventilator and under constant monitoring, doctors have also kept him sedated since they don’t want any pressure on his brain, explained Shah.

When the child’s CT scan was done initially, the doctor said both the baby’s left and right brain showed internal bleeding. An MRI on 7 February had also revealed secondary injuries on the brain’s layers, which had not been revealed in the CT scan, said Shah, adding that though these secondary injuries are mild, they need to be monitored.

“The secondary injuries occurred because of delay in bringing the baby to the hospital,” said Shah.

According to the doctors, not only is Nirvaan being treated, but the baby’s parents are also being counselled to handle the situation. “We are communicating with the parents and if the condition remains stable, we might have some good news in the next three to four days,” said Shah, suggesting that the baby might be taken off the ventilator.

Meanwhile, Kalaben is worried not just about her grandson, but how the family will bear the expenses of the treatment. The couple already spent Rs 15 lakh on treatment when the babies were born prematurely. “We want the strictest of punishments for the person who tortured our baby. She should not even be given bail,” said Kalaben, struggling to control her emotions.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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Source: The Print

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