Should Foreign-adopted Orphans Search For Their Roots?

December 4, 2021

In my teens, I had no idea about running as a sports event. For me, an orphan, it was not only about learning how to survive the brutal world, but also about carving an identity”. –Milkha Singh, byname the Flying Sikh, ( 1935- 2021), Indian track-and-field athlete who became the first Indian male to reach the final of an Olympic athletics event when he was placed fourth in the 400-metre race at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.

Orphaned during the partition of India, Singh moved to India from Pakistan in 1947. He eked out a living by working in a roadside restaurant before joining the Indian army where he realized his abilities as a sprinter.

At the 1958 Asian Games, Singh won both the 200-metre and 400-metre races. Later that year he captured the 400-metre gold at the Commonwealth Games, which was India’s first athletics gold in the history of the Games. He narrowly lost the bronze medal in the 400 metres at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, missing out on third place in a photo finish. Singh retained his 400-metre gold at the 1962 Asian Games and also took another gold as part of India’s 4 × 400-metre relay team.

So, being an orphan is no bar to rise to the top. But, orphans have their stories of sadness and happiness. These have been sensitively covered in Outlook weekly dated November 29, 2021 in its cover story titled Adoption Pangs. One of the articles is about orphans adopted by non-Indians looking for their roots and excerpted here.

Written by Suhas Munshi and titled “In Search of Closure”, it says Arun Dohle and Anjali Pawar arrange Reunion between Oversees Adoptees and their biological parents. In 15 years, they have helped 55 adoptees trace their biological parents in India.

Dohle knows the system well enough to help others. He has been through it himself. The India-born German national fought a legal battle for 17 years to be able to see his biological mother. In fact, his case, which went right up to the Supreme Court of India, paved the way for more adoptees to trace their roots.

“I wanted to search for my roots when I was 14. But, it was not possible then. I resumed my search in ’93. That’s the first time I came to India. I went to my orphanage and had the experience most adoptees have. – they were not helpful in sharing the adoption records”, Dohle says. Dohle, who runs the child rights NGO ACT (Against Child Trafficking), along with Anjali Pawar, now works round the year to help other adoptees to trace their roots.

If there’s anything about this process that affects him, Dohle says, it’s how adoptees expect him to help them for free. “A large number of adoptees get angry about that…People expect me to do this for free… They expect me to raise the funds for them…”

Dohle and Pawar have solved this problem by proposing a financially sustainable model for adoptees who want to trace their roots. On their website ( they state that in 10 years searching in India, they’ve found that the real cost of such searches is at least Rs 17 lacs.

But then, what drives people to go to such great lengths to find their biological family? Shouldn’t adoptees, who otherwise may have been living in dire circumstances, be thankful for growing up in a financially secure environment?

The subject is open to many views. What are yours? Your response is welcome in the format given below. (Please scroll down a bit.)

PS: Searching for biological roots has been favourite fodder for Indian films down the decades.


Also read:




By John B Monteiro
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Comment on this article

  • Vincent D'sa, Dubai/Shankerpura

    Mon, Dec 06 2021

    Sensitive topic. Knowing the biological parents, I think, should be a fundamental right for the children who are adopted. Adoptees should willingly do that once the child attains maturity to understand. This step would increase the respect for them from their adopted children. But generally, parents are afraid to initiate this. In the US, sperm donors register their names. I heard that this step they do in case of the child in the later years comes to know how they are born to find the original routes.

  • mohan prabhu, mangalore/canada

    Mon, Dec 06 2021

    A very sensitive subject and one that pesters adoptees in all countries. Ancestry websites provide links, but it costs money. The US has published a Guide which can be obtained by Americans searching for their roots, on paymnt of just 50 cents to cover return postage. The classic book is that of Alex Haley, a negro whose remote ancestor came from Gambia as a slave. He was determined to search for his roots and his book "Search for Roots" was publishd by Milwauk Sentenel in August 1965). I had heard about it a long time ago, and you or anyone interested can search Google. Searching for roots normally comes from the first generation adoptees who want to know who their real parents are. It is a biological urge. I have known several instances where a woman from Germany was keen on finding who her real parents were, and a Mangalorean lady (who you probably know - she lived in Bandra) asked me if I could help her because she knew I had compiled my family genealogy,. I searched for the name but couldn;t help. But her search continues. I was approached by one or two other persons over the years but haven't kept track.

  • John Monteiro, Bondel, Mangaluru

    Sat, Dec 04 2021

    Rohan, Mangalore: Sorry Rohan you missed my regular Cock-tale. Here is my compensating late entry concerning falling in love of my mother and father in the 1930s. Their villages, Thodambil and Kopla, were, and are, separated by a primitive cart track running from BC Road to Polali (now state highway). My mother’s farm in Kopla, was known for its extra-large-size pumpkins. My father’s family members approached her family for seeds of the giant pumpkins; but were told that according to ancient folklore and wisdom, giving seeds is doom for the giver. Enter an uncle of my father, who was then an eligible bachelor, like the serpent in the Adam and Eve story, and bypassing the elders enticed my innocent mother to deposit the seeds in the hollow of an ancient tree in the forest between the two villages along the cart-track. The simple-minded young girl took some seeds and deposited in the hollow of the tree. As she turned around to return to her home across the mud road, there was a callow young youth. Then one thing led to another and finally to the parish altar at Modankap (Bantwal) church. francis lobo, Mangalore: You have summed it up well with your insightful comments. I have come across some foreign adoptees whose first call in Mangalore is often Dr. Michael Lobo, well-known for his monumental work on the genealogy of Canara Catholics and 10,000+ pages of his work on this await publication. I have met a couple of foreign adoptees looking for their roots through him and I wonder how their adopted parents abroad view this adventure of searching for their roots.

  • francis lobo, Mangalore

    Sat, Dec 04 2021

    Adoption of the orphans by childless or parents with children is good. But in many cases when the adoptees find that the parents with whom they live are not real parents then they start to rebel and the adoptee parents have no choice but to let them loose. I have seen one girl as a small orphan who was adopted by a rich family. But when she grew up somewhere around 9 -10 standard she realized that she was adopted, stopped going to school, got into a bad friendship with another lady, and became wayward. The people who adopted her found her being violent and was not respecting them. They removed her from their house. After a few years, we could not see her as she was lost from the city. There are some orphan children who stop looking after their adoptive parents and put them in a dire state by usurping property. It is the same state of the foreign adoptees who suddenly find that they were orphans and search for their parents of birth or roots as it is called. The original parents might have given them to the orphanages as they could not manage them due to family burden or in some cases due to out-of-wedlock birth. Sometimes orphanages give these children to adoptee parents who genuinely have a need for them or sometimes for gain. There are rules that the government has made regarding adoption. But who will tell these children who are adopted that these parents have given them a better life than they were before?. There are some cases where the adoptee's parents are abusive also. The big question is whether adoption has solved the issue of orphan children or created more problems in society, through the illegal sale of children, abusive parentage, or abusive adopted children. Does this have resulted in a better life for the orphan or to the adoptee parents?.

  • Rohan, Mangalore

    Sat, Dec 04 2021

    The searching of roots may be an academic process. Our environment is what shapes us. But sometimes its curiosity that drives us to these searches. Missed the cock tale part of the story but Milkha Singh story made up the space. We all respect Milkha for his determination and courage to come out of the odds. May his soul RIP.

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