Friday, February 09, 2007

Rajasthan’s missing cell: Our job is to collect data, we do it every month

Indian Express Jaipur,

February 8: • Hope abandoned this single-room house in Chittorgarh years ago. Now Ratanlal Mali, his wife and three children do not expect to see Seema again, three years after the eldest child went missing. She was 13 then. Ironically, the two accused in the kidnapping are a police constable and his wife. Vinod Kumar, who was arrested but freed on bail later, continues to be in the police. And in this fact lies the despair of the poor Mali family.

• On September 9, 2005, Amina Maniyar’s daughter Aabida, then 15, did not return home from work. The mother went to the police to report the girl missing. “Bhaag gai hogi,” the police told her. Then she went again and again, over a year. “Bhool ja usey,” she was told. Amina says the police may be right that Aabida ran away but as a mother, she can’t live peacefully on that assumption. “I must know if she is safe.”

WHEN it comes to bearing the pain of a missing child and feeling totally helpless about it, a Ratanlal or an Amina has large company. Since 2001, 1,029 children are reported missing from across Rajasthan. And these are official figures, confirmed by the police at the district level. But senior police officials claim that the actual figure might be smaller. The reason: once a child comes back, nobody bothers to report it to the police, they say.

Leaving the “accurate” number aside, what the data here show is that on an average, 170 kids go missing in Rajasthan every year, or one child every two days. And nearly an eighth of this number is cases of kidnapping.

Backed by these numbers, the police believe that most of the missing kids actually run away following a conflict at home or in search of a better life. When the police say 15-year-old Aabida may have eloped, they have a little over 18 per cent chance of being correct. Two in 10 girls who go missing do in search of better life as a model or an actor, said a social worker here. Another two out of 10, mainly between ages 14 and 17, run away to get married.

Cases are registered only when there is a suspected kidnapping, but often there is no clear answer to who ran away and who was kidnapped.

“In more than 90 per cent cases, the children have run away from home after a fight. And most of them come back once their money runs out or their anger subsides,” says A K Jain, addition DGP of crime. “But the parents don’t bother to inform the police.”

M L Chowdhry, who runs the Gram Vikas Sewa Sanstha, a Johpur-based organisation working with street children, agrees. “Most children run away in search of a better life. They may be poor, have an abusive father or a sex-worker mother. And most of them do not come back if they earn enough to for two meals a day.”

But tell this to Seema’s family. Constable Vinod Kumar was posted at Udaipur while his wife lived at Chittorgardh. She often called Seema over for house work. On July 28, 2004, Seema was at her employer’s house. “After sometime, the lady came to our house, claiming that Seema had stolen her gold earrings and had gone missing,” says Ratanlal.

“She told us that her husband, who was in town then, was searching for her,” says the daily-wager.

Initially, the police in Chittorgarh refused to file a complaint. But the Malis went to the SP, where an FIR was lodged. Kumar was arrested and later freed on bail. He continues to be in service, currently stationed at Baswada.

Or try convincing Amina Maniyar, who is still waiting for Aabida. She may be among the 82 per cent girls who go missing but have not “eloped”. But there seems to be no way to ascertain that.

Rajasthan does have a missing persons cell, though. It is a lean affair, with one sub-inspector and a couple of administrative staff to man it. It is hard to expect this cell to go looking for missing persons when you get to know that the data the cell maintained was updated only after the Rajasthan High Court demanded to know how many children were missing in the state in the last three years.

The court has directed the CBI to look for 502 missing children, Half of the actual figure in the state.

All this full-time cell does is send pictures and details of missing persons for ads on television and in newspapers. These ads get displayed for a week, after which they are forgotten. The authorities here make it clear at the very outset that it is called a “cell” but “isn’t one actually”.

“Finding a child is not easy. Even if one deploys 10 policemen, they may not be able to trace the child because he might be in any corner of India,” says Jain.

“The cell can’t find the children. Anyway, it is the duty of the district police and that too is quite difficult because in several cases people don’t even have a photograph of the missing person,” Jain says.

Over at the one-man cell, in-charge Anwar Khan says: “Our job here is to collect the data, which we do every month.”

Found, somehow

JAIPUR: A trip to the Railway Station in November 2005 became a nightmare for Prem Chand, who works at construction sites in Jaipur. He had gone there to show trains and engines to his then 12-year-old son Tarun. However, Tarun got lost somewhere in the crowd, and the father could not trace him. After waiting for a day, Prem filed a complaint. “When I first went to the police, they insisted that I must have beaten up the boy and he must have run away from home,” he says. Meanwhile, somebody found Tarun crying near a train and thinking that his parents might be on the train, made him board it. “I go in to see if I could find papa,” says Tarun. But the train took him to Delhi. Someone at the station told Tarun he would take him to Jaipur, but sent him with someone else, who in turn handed Tarun over to a man named Sharifbhai in Noida.

“I worked at a tea stall for four days before one Rakesh came there and saw me crying. He fought with the stall owner and brought me back home,” says Tarun.



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