KALMUNAI, Sri Lanka – A judge's ruling Wednesday that a couple must undergo a DNA test to prove they are the parents of the tsunami survivor known as "Baby 81" (search) sparked chaos in a hospital pediatric ward after a surging crowd and the would-be parents burst in and pleaded with doctors to release the infant.
The distraught couple was later arrested for assault and criminal trespass; police said the pair assaulted hospital workers.
Earlier, after the court hearing, the man claiming to be the child's father cried out and threatened to kill himself, attempting to swallow an unknown white substance. The man and his wife, accompanied by friends and relatives, then walked to the hospital where Baby 81 is being kept and forced their way in.
"Here is my baby, look, look," shouted and cried Jenita Jeyarajah, 25, after forcibly entering the child's glass cubicle and picking him up. The father, Murugupillai Jeyarajah, 31, shielded his wife and the infant from the surging crowd.
"Please give us our baby," Jenita pleaded with the doctors on duty. She then fell on the feet of the head nurse and pleaded: "You are a mother. So am I. Give me my baby."
By then, between 70 and 100 people, most of them relatives and friends, started shouting at the doctors who had earlier testified in court that a DNA test was the best solution.
Baby 81 was the 81st admission to the hospital here on Dec. 26, the day of the Asian tsunami (search), and his plight has become emblematic of the disaster's effect on families. In Sri Lanka (search) alone, the waves claimed the lives of some 12,000 children, about 40 percent of Sri Lanka's death toll of 31,000.
In the days immediately after the tsunami, nine women claimed the boy as their own, though only the Jeyarajahs lodged a formal custody claim. They said documents proving the boy was theirs were swept away.
The Jeyarajahs now face a wait of eight weeks or more for the tests to be completed. The judge ordered that the four-month-old baby stay in hospital care until the issue is settled. The couple will likely have to travel more than 125 miles to the capital of Colombo for the tests.
The couple had hoped to be granted custody of the baby during Wednesday's hearing, though they had previously said they would submit to whatever tests the court ordered to prove their parentage.
After the struggle at the hospital, Jeyarajah and Jenita were summoned to the police station and arrested. "They assaulted hospital staff, they committed criminal trespass and obstructed government officials on duty," said W.C. Vijayatilleke, a senior police officer.
When told in court that the child would be put back into hospital care until at least April 20, when the court will reconvene to hear the test results, Jenita Jeyarajah beat her chest and cried out.
"Let the doctor have the baby. I will commit suicide if I don't have the baby," said Murugupilla, who tried to swallow white powder held in his hand. He was prevented by two men close by.
The judge said the others who claim to be the child's parents should report to police and have DNA samples taken.
"Thousands of babies have died and maybe hundreds of them are missing," Judge M.P. Mohaideen said. "It's only after a DNA test that we can be sure that we are correct."
"Maybe the couple is not lying, but the only way to make sure 100 percent is to have a DNA test," said Dr. K. Muhunthan, an obstetrician at the hospital. "We cannot give away orphans first-come, first-served. We must be neutral."
After the crowd entered the hospital, authorities shut the hospital's gates and called police, fearing the group would try to take the child. Police came and told the crowd to leave, which they did peacefully.
"This baby has suffered terrible losses — loss of familiar faces, familiar sound and familiar smell," said Anula Nikapota, a child specialist, who lives in London and has come to Kalmunai to help children to recover from trauma.
"Maybe DNA test was the only way out, but this proves the level of trauma people are having even after a month of the tsunami," said Maleec Calyanaratne, the spokeswoman for Save the Children in Sri Lanka about the scene in Kalmunai.
Before Wednesday's hearing, doctors had allowed the Jeyarajahs to visit the boy twice a week on condition they not lift him from his crib. As a concession, the judge ordered that the Jeyarajahs can now visit the baby every day.