In the absence of the wise King Solomon's sword, only a DNA test will perhaps settle a raging dispute between two mothers in southern India over a baby boy. A baby girl born to one of them is languishing though.
The problem stems from a mix-up by hospital staff in Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu. Thursday evening two women, Kamatchi (23) and Farheed Begum (24), gave birth within 20 minutes of each other one to a boy and the other a girl.
According to hospital records, Kamatchi delivered a girl first and Farheed a boy a little later. But thanks to some carelessness on the part of the ward staff, the babies were switched.
The doctors discovered the botch-up a few hours later. When they broke the news, it resulted in a quarrel. The well-known prejudices against the girl children came to the fore and neither mother would accept the baby girl now.
Faheed abruptly stopped feeding the girl. "Why should we attend to her when she is not our child?" asked Farheed's husband Ansari.
"My wife gave birth to him. He is ours. Just because the hospital made a mistake, it does not mean we can give him away to someone else," said a determined Ansari.
But he also sought to allay any charge of bias against girls, saying, "We would have happily taken the girl home. But not now, when we know the truth."
But Kamatchi's husband Elango refused to let go of the boy. "My wife fed him first. We can't part with him," he said.
Kamatchi's mother Lakshmi argued, "My daughter came out of the theatre with the baby boy. She has also fed him," and threatened to immolate herself if the babies were switched now.
On Friday, relatives of both the mothers took to the streets, crying foul and blocking traffic in northern Chennai.
Meantime both the babies have been removed from their mothers and are kept in the neonatal intensive care unit.
"We are not sure how this happened," said Rajah Sir Ramaswamy Mudaliar (RSRM) Lying-In Hospital superintendent Cyndia Alexander. "We are holding an inquiry. Both the women delivered by caesarean section in the same operation theatre, on nearby tables.
Possibly the staff mixed up the wrist bands used to identify babies..."
Subsequently blood tests were done, but then it was not of much help. "Both babies are B-positive. The mothers are B-positive and AB-positive, which means their child could, medically, be B-positive. So we don't have any conclusive evidence yet," said Dr Mythili Baskar, dean, Stanley Medical College, who is also in charge of the RSRM Hospital.
The solution could be a DNA test, which could take a week. "We have sought government permission to conduct the test. We are not sure if either party needs to register a police complaint for this. Anyway we need to convince both parents. Until then, the babies will be in the neonatal intensive care unit. We will give the babies milk expressed from their mothers," Dr Baskar added.