INVESTIGATION Kids go missing from homes, cops say no gangs here, they’ll return

Indian Express, Madhya Pradesh

BHOPAL, february 10:• Vishal Talreja went missing from outside his home in Indore’s Sudamanagar on a Friday evening in 1998 when he was three-and-a-half years old. He was playing with his elder sister, Harshal, when she went inside for a cup of tea. “When I came out after five minutes he was not there,” says Harshal, now 14. The family believes if they had more money, the police would have done much more.

• Amjad, 11, went missing five years ago after he left his house in Bhopal’s Kazi Mohalla to offer namaz. His father, Kudrat Noor, had married for the second time at the age of 65 because he had no issue from the previous marriage. Now 81, Noor has seen a body exhumed and being labelled as his son’s. He did not identify it nor did two DNA tests help. The octogenarian father says his son is alive but doesn’t know where to look for him.

• Faizal, a 12-year-old mute boy, went missing on December 12 from his house near Akhadewali mosque near Bhopal Railway Station. “Ham kahan dhundne jayenge, tumhi dhund lo (where will we search, you look for him yourself),” the police told Nasir Khan, his 63-year-old grandfather. “There is no day that I don’t look for him,” Khan said after returning from Sehore where he was told a beggar resembling Faizal was seen.

The police can’t show more concern. There are no beggar gangs, no organised flesh trade, no flourishing kidnapping racket in Madhya Pradesh so when a child goes missing, the police wait for her to return home. After all, most of them run away because of trouble at home, poverty or love affairs. A missing child, they say, is last on the priority list, unless the parents are influential.

In spite of this defence, the fact is that children as young as three years old or girls entering their teens go missing right from their homes; yet, the state has no special squad to trace them.

Beat constables from every police station are expected to deal with cases of missing persons. The Criminal Investigation Department acts as a nodal agency by forwarding details to every station once it receives a complaint from a particular police station.

As of December 31 last year, the number of untraced children in MP was 1913, a figure even the police officers don’t believe.

Archana Sahay of Childline, too, contests the figures but says the police alone can’t be blamed. Only last year, her organisation rescued 226 children from Bhopal alone and found that there were no police complaints when it tried to reunite them with parents.

She, however, criticises the police for their attitude towards missing children. “They can’t deny their role because they are the ones who are contacted first. They have an organisational structure and the means to deal with the issue,” she says. Girls, she says, are sent to other states while children are forced to become drug peddlers. “The police simply can’t outrightly reject the presence of gangs.”

Manju, mother of Vishal Talreja, however, has faced just that with the police. “The police did nothing to trace him,” she says, recalling how the family chased false leads and looked for him as far as Allahabad.

The Madhya Pradesh police deny gangs operating against children but according to the National Crime Records Bureau, the state accounts for 22.9 per cent of the crime against children in the country.

Former DGP SC Tripathi says there may be sporadic incidents but no gangs operated in the state, “at least, it has never come to light”. According to him, the number of missing children must be more because parents in tribal-dominated areas don’t register disappearances.

Additional DGP (CID) Vijay Raman describes it as a social problem. “Society should look within rather than blame the police for missing children,” he says. “Leave us to policing and to tackle crime as defined under the IPC. If the society thinks missing children is a crime it should articulate the system it wants to have to prevent it.”

District superintendents of police too say there are no alarming trends anywhere in the state. Most missing cases have a lot to do with love affairs, they say. The problem is there is no investigation even when numbers warrant immediate attention.

Take a small district like Khandwa, for instance. 920 children went missing here in 2002. Of them, 252 were girls and could not be traced at the end of that year. In the next year too, 81 remained untraced. The figures are carried forward and as of last year, 108 girls still remain untraced. Villagers believe the girls could have been lured into prostitution to operate in neighbouring Burhanpur, the only organised red light area in the state, and from there to Mumbai’s brothels.

The police have their own argument. “Parents don’t inform us even when the girls return home, to avoid getting a bad name for the family,” IG (Indore) Rajendra Kumar said.

Most missing children are reported from Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur, Gwalior, Chhindwara, Ujjain and Khandwa. Few cases are reported from smaller towns and tribal areas though the number could be much more.

Nirmala Buch, who started Mahila Chetna Manch, after retiring as chief secretary said, “it’s not a big issue in a state like MP only because gang of child lifters generally operate in industrialised or commercial areas”. Her organisation is active in 12 of the 48 districts but has not come across any trend in missing children.

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