By Minreet Kaur
18 October 2023
A woman abandoned as a newborn baby by a roadside in Uganda has recalled the "stigma" of growing up as an adopted child in the 1960s and 1970s.
Bharti Dhir was found in a fruit box by a passer-by in the town of Kabale in 1960 before being adopted by a Sikh family.
At the age of seven she accidentally discovered she was adopted.
Now living in Reading, Berkshire, she is helping families starting their own journeys of adopting children.
Ms Dhir, 63, remembers the moment when she inadvertently stumbled upon details of her background at the family home in Uganda.
"I went into my father's office and saw some scraps of paper with my name on it and I saw the words 'adopted' and 'abandoned'," she said.
"Growing up a lot of people in school would say 'you know that's not your real family' - this was hurtful as my parents never wanted me to feel I was any different to their other children."
Ms Dhir said children like her, with dual Indian-African heritage were "looked down on".
She remembers comments to her parents like "by adopting an African child you must have had an affair" and "this will bring dishonour on the family".
"People didn't understand why they adopted me as they saw me as a stranger's child," she said.
"I always felt that if you're dark and have curly hair it's not a good thing and this had a huge impact on my sense of self-worth.
"As a child, I felt I was ugly and not a beautiful person, and it was only in my 30s I changed this perception of myself."
The family fled Uganda in the early 1970s with thousands of others in the Asian community, forced out by dictator Idi Amin.
Arriving in the UK the family were among the refugees housed at a camp at Newbury, but she experienced the same prejudices.
"People would say to my mum 'she is very dark; can you give her this skin lightening cream can you straighten her hair?'.
"This is an insult I felt and I refused to change the way I look for a partner and I wasn't prepared to put up with it." She has since documented her experiences in her autobiography, and is now working to help other families in the local Asian community on their adoption journeys.
"It's more popular to adopt within a family rather than someone outside, as you've kept it within the family and you know exactly what the background is," she said.
She has met three Asian families who have adopted outside of their extended family, one of whom is a friend.
She added: "They consider it a blessing and see the children as their own.
"I am now helping the South Asian community to embrace adoption and am there to offer any support or advice.
"I can see adoption is becoming less of a stigma but we still have a long way to go before it is fully accepted within our community."