The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling is probably one of the best literary classics enjoyed by people of all age groups. The story of a kid being raised by the wolves in the wild, making friends with a mountain bear, and fighting off a fierce tiger as his archenemy, The Jungle Book does not shy away from bringing fantasy to life. But what if you found out that the character of Mowgli in The Jungle Book was inspired from a real-life feral boy raised by the wolves?
The tale of the feral boy Dina Sanichar is an interesting one, and a far cry from the romanticized tale painted by various Walt Disney films over the years. The following article presents a critical account of the story of Dina Sanichar, and how life is for such “mystery children.”
A band of hunters, on their way for a prize catch in the jungle of the Bulandshahr district, in Uttar Pradesh, came across a surprising find. Upon entering a clearing, the hunters saw a cave on the far side, and started to plan their approach in case anything was inside. The year was 1867, and while the hunters expected maybe a lone wolf to be hiding in the cave, what they found was a boy.
The boy did not respond to the men or approach them. The hunters took pity on the boy, then no more than 6 years of age, and felt they could not leave him in the unforgiving forest.
The Life of Dina Sanichar
Thus began the journey of Dina Sanichar towards a “normal” life. Or did it? The hunters brought the helpless little boy to the Sikandra Mission Orphanage, in Agra. It was at this place where Dina Sanichar was given his name, inspired from the Hindi word for Saturday, the day he arrived. Seems like a nice story of a feral boy from the jungle being rehabilitated into mainstream society, doesn’t it? However, the reality offers a more tragic perspective, one impossible to ignore.
Dina Sanichar was also known by another name at the Sikandra Mission Orphanage, ‘The Wolf Boy’. The name was considered suitable for him, probably on the basis of assumptions that wild animals had raised him. The missionaries at the orphanage had described the behavior of Dina in their accounts. According to the descriptions, Dina behaved more like an animal than a human.
Some of Dina’s behavior which led to such opinions included walking on all fours, and showing difficulty in walking on two feet. Furthermore, he also had the habit of eating only raw meat, alongside gnawing on bones for sharpening his teeth.
Just imagine how difficult it must have been for a boy without any contact with humans for the first years of his life, to now have to interact with humans. Communication was never an easy task for Dina, and as a matter of fact, he was never able to communicate with the missionaries at the orphanage in their language. Dina was also unable to understand sign language, and instead used to growl and howl just like a wolf whenever he wanted to express his feelings.
As time passed, Dina was able to learn how to understand the missionaries at the orphanage. However, he never actually learned how to speak the language itself. The more time he stayed at the orphanage, he was able to develop human traits slowly. Dina started standing upright and also began dressing himself up. Also, rather unfortunately, he became a habitual smoker, having picked up the habit from the missionaries.
A Reflection on Civilization Itself
The case of Dina Sanichar is an intriguing one, drawing us back to the roots of our progress as a civilization. Apparently, Dina was not the only case of a feral child discovered in India. Over the course of few years following the discovery of Dina Sanichar, many other feral children were found in different parts of India, and indeed the world.
Many of these stories have been exaggerated in an attempt to romanticize the plight of feral children, as they appear in various myths in the East as well as the West. However, these cases actually draw attention to some critical themes regarding human development, and the relationship of humans with the wild. Most important of all, the various incidents of feral children discovered all over the world ask us a poignant question: what makes us human?
Feral Children in the West
Even though many are quick to assume the discovery of such feral children as a ploy by missionaries for gaining attention, there are many examples of feral children in the West also. One of the most famous stories about feral children in the West in that of Romulus and Remus.
The myth relates how the two twin boys were abandoned at the bank of the River Tiber and were raised by a she-wolf. When grown, the twins returned to civilization and built the foundations of Rome, to this day one of the greatest cities in the West.
Some of the other notable cases of feral children discovered in other parts of the world include John of Liege, Peter the Wild Boy, and Victor of Aveyron. All of these stories note the inability of these children or people to communicate in human language, which is consistent with reports of the Indian feral children. The commonalities between the cases of feral children all over the world show that these are not mere figments of someone’s imagination.
Failed by Society
What might have been the cause for feral children to become the way they were in the first place? Prolonged lack of contact with society can be a feasible answer in this case. However, is it possible for a human child to be actually raised by wolves in the wild? Or is it a literary flourish, a metaphor for the unforgiving circumstances in which feral children grew up? Although many questions about the origins of feral children continue to fascinate researchers around the world, the fact that they exist should cause human civilization to consider its failings, and ask how it is that these children could have been abandoned to grow up in the wild.