Nepal government denies earthquake relief money to Miracle Baby’s parents

Miracle Baby of Nepal earthquake 2015.

He was miraculously rescued, alive, 22 hours after a monster earthquake left him buried under the debris of his home in Muldhoka, near Kathmandu. A picture of the then 4 month old Sonish Awal was run by virtually every media outlet of the world – from a four-page newspaper in Nepal to CNN. And the fact that his parents well and truly lost their home got mentioned every time the picture found a place in the hundreds of media reports that were produced in the aftermath of the 7.8 magnitude Nepal earthquake that claimed nearly 9,000 lives.

The entire world could see that the Awal family was on the street for months except one party – their very own government. As a result, ten months after the disaster, the struggling parents cannot access whatever little support the Nepalese government is handing out to earthquake victims, many ‘fake earthquake victims’.

I will bring you back from the jaws of earthquake baby: In this Facebook photo, Sonish ready to take flight into a new life.
I will bring you back from the jaws of death: In this Facebook photo with his mother, Sonish appears ready to take flight into the second edition of his life, thanks to parents who weren’t read to give up.

According to the criteria set by the Government of Nepal, Shyam and Rashmila Awal are required to produce land-ownership certificate in order to get their earthquake victim identity cards. Unfortunately, they do not have it. Many original inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley, mostly from the Newari ethnicity, do not necessarily hand certificates down to their younger generations when they split family properties between their offspring. The elders just dictate who gets what and the young ones follow the family head’s verdict. Now this traditional way of doing business is costing the Awal family their earthquake relief handout.

According to local news reports, the family should have received NRs 15,000 followed by another hand out of NRs 10,000. “I have seen even fake earthquake victims receive relief payment. I feel very sad that genuine victims like us have not gotten it,” Rashmila Awal told vernacular daily Naya Patrika.

On the fateful day, Mrs Awal was walking home from her shop when suddenly things around her began to move, very violently. She saw her home shake from side to side and ultimately be brought down to a pile of rubble. The 35 year old instantly realised what was happening. The realisation gave way to a primal fear no parents should ever have to face.

Buried under that mountain of concrete were two parts of the mother’s heart – Soniya who was aged 10 at the time and Sonish who was merely 4 month old! A picture of the latter’s dramatic rescue would eventually become the single most powerful image of hope in the face of the devastation left behind by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

The Class IV student was rescued alive from the rubble in two hours but there was no sign of her baby brother Sonish. A group of Nepalese Army kept digging until darkness fell but without any success. They returned to their barracks but the 34 year old father, Shyam Awal, kept digging for his son and finally could hear his faint cry. He was assisted by his neighbours but they could not rescue the baby following which the family joined other victims to sleep in a nearby open field. Neighbours told him that if God had plans for his son to be found alive then he would.

Early on April 26, anxious to hear that cry of his baby, Mr Awal returned to the place where his home once happily existed. God smiled on him and he indeed could hear the sound he so desperately wanted to hear. The army was promptly notified and the excavation was resumed which ultimately led to the production of that iconic Nepal earthquake image of a visibly emotional soldier holding Sonish in his arms.

That baby, the Miracle Baby, is now being refused earthquake handout by the Government of Nepal because the tiny victim’s parents do not have a piece of paper. The government’s failure to prove that their family home was indeed destroyed by the earthquake shows how blind a typical South Asian bureaucracy can be.

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