Something that, thanks to Kipling's character Mowgli, will forever be associated with India are stories of feral children. The story of Mowgli, told through the short story 'in the Rukh', where the character is first introduced as an adult, and the Jungle Books, which tell of Mowgli's childhood in the Indian jungle deal with the story of how Mowgli, after surviving a tiger attack at a young age, was raised and protected by animals; notably wolves, a formerly domesticated panther and a bear. Mowgli's story was partially based on the stories and legends of feral children raised by animals found throughout the world in many different cultures, and in Europe the concept of children being raised by wolves dates as far back as the foundation myths of the city of Rome by Romulus and Remus in 753 BC.
In India often a child having been raised by wolves was used as a standby explanation for why a child had behaviour diverging from what would be considered normal; for example many who may have been on the autistic spectrum were unfairly characterised as feral children in some parts of the country. One famous case was that of Amala and Kamala, two children, allegedly raised by wolves, who found their way to the orphanage of Reverend Joseph Amrito Lal Singh in Calcutta.
According to the first stories Rev. Singh told, the girls were given to him by a man in Godamuri, but this story was later changed. In the revised version of the story Singh claimed to have rescued the two young girls from the wolves den itself in 1920 when Amala was about 18 months and Kamala about 8 years old. Singh named the girls and wrote about their progress in a diary.
Singh recorded the girls lives at his orphanage in meticulous detail, telling of how both girls seemed to possess traits inherited from their lupine upbringing, such as never wanting to dress, a nocturnal lifestyle and howling at night in an vain attempt to call to their pack. The girls also had hard skin on their knees and hands from walking on all fours, would not stand upright and had excellent night vision. Interestingly, though they refused cooked meat and would scratch and bite at anyone attempting to feed them, the girls would eat raw meat from bowls. The fact that they ate from bowls like a pet dog seems somewhat at odds with the rest of the wild wolf-like traits they were said to have.
Amala died a few months after entering the orphanage from a kidney infection and Kamala lived to be about 17 years old, dying in 1929, also from a kidney infection, by which time she had been taught to walk upright and had a limited human vocabulary.
There are several aspects of the tale that cast doubt on the entire story and these were identified by Serge Aroles in the book L'Enigme des enfants-loup. The diaries were actually written in 1936, photographs of the wolf children were taken in 1937 (8 years after Kamala's death) with local children posing as the girls, and according to doctors from the orphanage, Kamala did not walk around on all fours or have any hard skin from having done so.
More disturbingly, several eyewitnesses claimed that Singh used to beat Kamala in order to get her to perform for visitors. This puts a whole new spin on the case and it could well be that rather than Kamala's behaviour being due to being raised by wolves, it could have been the result of neglect and abuse in her early years like the American “feral child” known as Genie who was discovered in 1970.
Genie displayed similar animal-like traits and was raised not by wolves but alone in an enclosed crib and tied to a chair during waking hours up until she was discovered when she was about 13. Such social isolation resulted in, among other things, an extremely limited vocabulary and unusual way of walking. It has been alleged that Singh fabricated or exaggerated the girls feral nature in order to acquire more funds for his orphanage, which was in a dire financial situation at the time.