Dina Sanichar: The Boy Raised By Wolves In Wild

What makes us human? Are we born this way, or are we shaped by society, with our own animal instincts subdued by our customs? What happens when we remove that touch of civilization and human education? The following story of Dina Sanichar sheds some light on those questions.

Dina Sanichar
Dina Sanichar

In February 1867, a group of hunters was making their way through the thick jungle in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, India, when they saw a pack of wolves entering a cave ahead.

Knowing that the region had been haunted by wolf attacks at the time, the hunters saw this as an opportunity to exterminate some of these ferocious dogs. To get them out of their lair, they devised a plan in which they would set the cave mouth on fire so the smoke would do its thing.

Before long, the wolves ran out into the open field, where they were seized one by one by the armed men. Just when they thought they had killed all the creatures, the sound of another coughing and struggling could be heard in the gloom of the cave, but when a shape bloomed in the darkness, they could barely contain their shots when they realized that it was not. of a wolf. What came running out of the dark depths of the open-air cave was a young human, no older than 6 years, on all fours and growling in a bestial way at the hunters.

Wolf
Credit: Philipp Pilz.

From all the indications, it appeared that the boy had been raised by wolves. He was described as having prominent teeth, a low forehead, and fidgeting. He was also very hairy.

At first, the men could not get close to the infant, as he was as fierce as the wolves that had been struck down. He screamed and bit anyone who got close to him and could only be caught when he ran out of energy to collapse next to one of the dead wolves and bury his face in its fur as if in mourning. Even then, the boy resisted, but they were finally able to subdue him.

In an attempt to bring him back to civilization, the hunters took him to the Sikandra Mission Orphanage where he was baptized and later named Dina Sanichar ( Sanichar means ‘Saturday’ in Urdu because that was the day he arrived at the orphanage).

Dina Sanichar And His Struggle To Adapt To Civilization

The next several years were spent trying to rehabilitate Dina and make him function as humans do. The amount of time he had spent in the wild had caused him significant damage.

It was not easy for him to adjust to his new life. The director of the orphanage, Father Erhardt, would say that “although he was undoubtedly paid (imbecile or idiot), he still showed signs of reason and, at times, true cunning.”

Dina Sanichar
Dina Sanichar as a child in the orphanage.

Initially, communicating with Dina was difficult because he did not understand the language and gestures of the missionaries who attended to him. In response, he would growl and make other animal noises when he needed to make himself understood.

As for his few advances toward being considered human, he could walk upright, although he moved much more skillfully on all fours. He could dress only “with difficulty” and managed to keep track of his cup and saucer. However, he continued to smell all his food before eating it, always avoiding anything but raw meat as much as possible.

Dina Sanichar
Dina Sanichar as an adult.

Several attempts were made to teach him to read, speak, and write, but he never learned any of that. Also, while he seemed to understand some words, he never really knew how to speak.

Ironically, a human habit that he adopted as an adult quite often – to the point of addiction – was smoking, something that possibly helped him reach a premature grave when he died of tuberculosis in 1895, just 20 years after his arrival in the city civilization.

The importance of language

Perhaps the most famous western myth of wild children is that of Romulus and Remus, twins who were abandoned on the banks of the Tiber River, suckled and raised by a she-wolf, and then returned to civilization to found Rome, the so-called epicenter of civilization. . But Dina is the inversion of that savage narrative to noble. His story revealed that you can take the boy out of the forest, but you cannot take the forest out of the boy.

And it is that much of the gulf between nature and civilization has to do with language. Dina never learned to speak and he offered researchers the results of what would be – if designed – a barbaric experiment in the study of human development. Especially with regard to the critical period for language learning – which, if lost, will never allow a complete understanding of it.

Romulus And Remus
Romulus and Remus.

The American linguist Noam Chomsky did not publish his emblematic Syntactic Structures until almost 70 years after this case. In them, he theorized that language is fundamental to human experience. “If people without a language were abandoned on an island,” explains the author in his work, “in a generation or two they would create a language of their own.”

It is possible that Dina did not speak his mother tongue, but as Lucien Malson wrote in the psychology book Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature, he had improvised other “cruder, less specifically human” forms of communication, which were often manifestations of impatience and anger. In fact, many of these animal-raised children would adopt their animal parents’ modes of communication: barking, howling, growling, and lunging.

The subject of the most rigorous study of the silence of isolated children was Genie, a Los Angeles girl who was locked in a room for years by an abusive father. Its discovery in 1970 was a tragic case from which we learned much more about the neuroscience of language development and what happens to the brain and to experience the world if it is missed.

But what makes the case of Dina somewhat puzzling is that — perhaps — it exposes the precariousness of the distinction between animal and human. We spent a few years away from homes, cars, showers, and people, and we might be more like the family dog ​​than our human family.

Real Life Mowgli
It has been suggested that Dina (right) may have inspired the character “Mowgli” in the stories in The Jungle Book, published by Rudyard Kipling in 1894.

The few images that remain reveal a wild-eyed figure, his body contorted, as if he did not know how to be in it. Seeing him dressed is even more alarming — the trappings of civilization amplify his savagery rather than hide it. The wild child threatens to undo the hierarchy of biological beings, where humans are at the top, by forcing us to ask what we are.

As Malson wrote, werewolf children did not really look like people at all: ‘The view that men outside of society are not really men is reinforced by the fact that peculiarly human traits such as laughing and smiling are totally absent in human beings. wild children”.

Whether Dina found that lost humanity within herself or not will likely remain a mystery.

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