Posted online: Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 0000 hrs
Kolkata, march 12 : If the report by Kolkata police’s Missing Persons Squad is any indication, an abnormally high number of children disappear every year from city homes. Out of about 40,000 people gone missing from the city between 1996 and 2005 (as per the latest figures available with the Kolkata police), the number of children is significantly high. Over 15,600 children have disappeared during this period from the city.
Meanwhile, for a small fragment of those who make it back home, the return is often due to providential escape. Take the case of Sudha. The 14-year-old girl of a split family moved several hands on the promise of job and safe upkeep. “At one house, the day I landed, the drivers downstairs targeted me. I was sexually exploited for nearly a year in that multi-storeyed house,” she said. One day, Sudha managed to call the STD booth near her house and pass on the address she was staying at. She was rescued by the people of her locality with police help.
Detective Department chief Gyanwant Singh traces a pattern in the missing links. Data analysis shows, those in the age-group of five to six years are mostly lost and found cases and are mostly reported from slums of the city. A small number account for “kidnapping” cases, engineered mostly by their near and dear ones. Bad school results and family atrocity account for a large number of cases in the age-group of 10-15 years, Singh says.
A new trend, he says, is homosexuality, the expression of which is said to be forcing some, though a small fraction, to flee homes. For example, two Class IX girls of a reputed Kolkata school fled to Siliguri in 2006. Traced to a hotel, the girls reportedly confessed their plans to marry and live together.
A study, sponsored by the National Human Rights Commission, on trafficking of women and children in the city reflects the shocking state of affairs. It says: “It is alarming and it is true… Kolkata seems to be most unsafe for children among all the cities in the country.” The study, in collaboration with the Delhi-based Institute of Social Sciences, over a six-year period from 1996 to 2001, found a whopping 133 per cent rise in the number of children gone missing in Kolkata.
The response of the police missing squads is abysmal. There are two separate units in the state to deal with such cases — the Kolkata police, having jurisdiction over the municipal area of the city, and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) that looks after the cases in the districts.
“It is true that such cases are dealt as general diary cases in local police stations because missing children cannot be related to any crime. It is also true that apart from recording the diary and occasionally visiting the victim’s house, little else is done,” said Banibrata Basu, an inspector general of police, who has served as the head of both the Detective Department of the Kolkata police as well as the Missing Persons Squad of the CID. Basu acknowledges that the problem in Bengal is inextricably linked to human trafficking and, therefore, needs a co-ordinated approach of the police, the panchayats and the NGOs.
But both the units are restricted by shortage of manpower, funds and resources. At times, the cops agree to undertake the journey only if the victim’s party is willing to bear the costs. But that often is an unofficial arrangement and the poor can hardly afford to foot such bills.
Moreover, the missing cases are given the lowest priority since they are not considered crime until linked to kidnapping, trafficking or smuggling. The Missing Persons Squad of the Kolkata police, at present, comprises barely 12 persons, including two inspectors, five sub-inspectors, three assistant sub-inspectors and two constables. Their job is restricted to recording the cases and arranging for publication or flashing of the missing persons’ photographs in newspapers or television channels.
The CID Missing Persons Squad, too, has around 14 members, headed by an inspector and a deputy superintendent of police.
“We have to deal with a tremendous volume of cases. Everyday, at least 20 people come to us. What can we do? The officers are busy recording the statements and talking to the victim’s relatives. Let alone taking up investigations and search operations, the process of maintaining the records and publication of the victim’s details in the media are in themselves difficult to handle,” said an officer, in charge of the department. Then, the officials get a meager travelling allowance for the job.
“We are trying to tackle the issue by way of inter-linking police stations with the CID missing persons’ squad to speed up the process. In 2007, we are targeting human trafficking as the thrust area,” said Sanjay Mukherjee, DIG CID (Special), who also holds charge of the Missing Persons Squad. Biswanath Chowdhury, state Minister for Social Welfare and Jails, said, “It is a serious crisis. A state-wide survey is underway with the help of three universities to find out details of missing and trafficked children and women.”