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PUCL, February 2007

The story of the poor who lost their children

Nithari: The police did not file FIR because they lived in a rented house

-- A report by Dr. Pushkar Raj

For the last two years more than forty young children and women went missing from a small urban hamlet of Nithari, at the centre of Noida, a satellite town bordering Delhi (India). The local media regularly covered the incidents of missing children; the National womenís commission of India also took cognisance of the matter but the children continued to vanish in thin air. However, In the last week of the December 2006, by sheer chance some human remains were spotted at the backyard of a palatial house situated at the edge of the village of Nithari. When the spot was searched further what emerged was a chilling tale of cold blooded serial murders that perhaps qualify as the biggest serial killings any where in the world.

What went wrong?

Dr. Pushkar Raj , National Secretary PUCL, conducted an investigation.

Background of the incidents
By the evening of 28 Dec 2006 the poor villagers of the Nithari came to know why there were so many police personnel and television OBs at the edge of the entrance of the road that led to the village.

The police had found as many as eight human skeletons from the backyards of an imposing white bungalow that stood on the left side of the road. The house belonged to an industrialist Mohinder Singh Pandher, who owns spare part instrument factories. The crowd outside the bungalow looked seemingly numb as police hired workers began searching the drain in front of the house for more human remains.

As many as 38 people disappeared from the Nithari village for the last two years. These included mostly children , majority of them female. However there were grown ups too who went missing. The poor families who had hoped for their dear ones to come back home looked crestfallen. Their pain increased with the slowly sinking news that their departed ones could be murdered and disposed off as was evident from the emerging human skeletons from the backyard and drain outside the house.

The Place and People
Nithari is a small urban village with a population of about 3500 surrounded by posh sector 30 and 31 bungalows in Noida, a satellite down adjoining Delhi that claims world class infrastructure and living surroundings. In fact the land where the bungalows are built today belonged to the villagers of Nithari. As the mansions around the village began to grow, Nithari began to be turned into a veritable slum. It became home to a huge migrant and floating poor population that included manual laborers, rickshaw pullers, roadside venders, domestic servants and those engaged in other menial jobs. These are the people who subsist on fringe spending of rich living in the areas surrounding the village. They work for them in various capacities from car cleaner to cook though invisible. The average income of these families is just enough to survive. Most of them live in one room rented house in a dingy narrow laned village leading hand to mouth day-to-day existence.

Role of the police
The children began disappearing for the last two years. The parents would approach the police post barely two hundred meters away. There they would be shoed away; their complaint would not be registered, those who persisted would be directed to the police station in sector 20 around ones kilometer away. In the police station the first question that would be asked of the parents by the police personnel was `are you a tenant or have your own house in the village?í

The reason for asking the above mentioned question to the parents by the police to those whose wards went missing was to gauge the economic condition of the complainant and potential for possible community pressure that might follow if a formal complaint is not lodged by the police. It may be mentioned that one child whose parents own a home in the village disappeared from the village two years ago. He was the son of one Ashok Kumar. The villagers had jammed the road for a day then and the police was forced to register a FIR. In case of the rest there was no FIR, and therefore no action.

On hearing from the parents that they were poor, living on a rented accommodation and were asking for police assistance in finding their child not as a matter of right but as a token of benevolence, the police first would ignore them; those who lingered would be abused and ordered to go out of the police station. Those who insisted on registering the complaint would be even beaten up.

As per the rules, however the police is supposed to register a case on a missing child if he/she is not traced within 24 hours. In that case the obvious presumption based on commonsense is that the said child has been kidnapped. But in the case of Nithariís poor police neither made use of rulebook nor common sense.

So there was no report registered and no investigation. The children because they were the children of hapless poor continued to be lured, kidnapped, raped and killed!

The police indifference to the pain and loss of the bereaved families was because of several reasons. One these people were poor and therefore had no courage and confidence to take their complaint further up to the senior officers. Their first and the last resort was the local police station. Two they received no solidarity from the neighbors owing to being migrant, living on a rented house that meant frequent change of accommodation. Three they received no political support. Most of these people have no voting rights. They did not count as electorates. Therefore They did not have a petty local political leader who could voice their complaint. And finally these people were semi- literate and ignorant in regard to their civil and legal rights.

Testimonies of families who lost their children

Sonia is 35, mother of four children originally from west Bengal. She lost her 11 years old son. Her sunken eyes give a peep in her despair and pain as she speaks:

My son Shiekh Raja was nine years old. He studied in 3rd standard at Rosary public school. We ate once in the day but had dream of giving our child good education even beyond what our means permitted. On 29 December 2006 it is two years that he has disappeared. I immediately went to the chowki (local police check post). They told me to go and search for him in orphanages. When I went again they said the child is not in our pocket he will come at his own. When I asked them to register a report they told me to get out of the police station. They abused me in the worst possible language. They said you people produce so many children and cannot take care of them; some of them are bound to disappear. Having got sick of abuses I stopped going to the police station. I could not take the insult of policemen along the pain of losing my child.

Sunita (w/o Jaggu Lal , who irons clothes in the locality) and resident of Unnav district of Uttar Pradesh held photograph of her daughter Jyoti when I met her. Tears in eyes with dry skin and eyes and torn slippers in feet she said:

My daughter Jyoti disappeared one year and seven months back. I went to police post on the corner of the chowk (crossing). The constable on duty told me that as the police will look for her and I should also search for her. When I asked him to register a report of disappearance he asked me to write an application giving details of my daughter. I went the next day with the application. He took it and told me to go. I think my application was put in dust bin by him. Later when I went there I could not find the policemen who had heard me earlier. I asked other police men who told me that they did not know about it.

Jaggu Lal (husband of Sunita)

Earlier when I heard that the children were disappearing from the locality I paid no attention on it. To me it was not a news. But when my own daughter disappeared I realized what it is like losing oneís child. I went to the local police station in charge, Superintendent of city police, senior superintendent of police; I even went to Akhilesh Yadav, the son of the Chief Minister and Mayawati, the former Chief Minister. Every one paid lip service. No one was gave a thought that where the children were disappearing. Imagine what else could I do? When SSP RKS Rathor took charge I went to him with some hope. He called the police station in charge. The police in charge lied to him that 15 people had disappeared and 12 of them have been traced. I nailed his lie by providing the SSP list of 17 people who had gone missing and took some of the relatives of the disappeared to meet him. He promised help. But that remained a promise.

Many of the people whose wards went missing left the village. This was due to the police harassment. When police came visiting their house at odd hours at the pretext of asking information on disappeared ward, the house owner would ask them to vacate the room. No one wants their house to be visited by a police man. This happened to the two families of Rimpa Haldar and Bina Haldar, two girls in their late adolescence who had gone missing and police said that they had eloped.

Karamvir and Sunita
Madhu Gautam was 20, daughter of Karamvir and Sunita of Nithari village. She went missing on 12 November 2006. Interestingly the young woman does not find mention in several reports that have surfaced on the incident. Her parents said:

We searched for her everywhere. In every house in the surrounding we went. We went to police too. They said, they could help if she was a child, they cannot do anything about a grown up woman. We felt scared of going to police station after a while because they talked dirty and treated us badly. We kept silent. What could we do?

Murari Lal
Murari Lal 24, works in a small garment-manufacturing unit. His brother Girdhari Lal 28, who lived in a village in Rai Barelli district of Uttar Pradesh came to visit him two years back. After barely four days when Murari Came back home he found his brother missing. The brothers had no relations in NCR where Girdhari could go. Neither did he reach back home in village. The other brother went to the police station repeatedly. He said:

The policemen laughed at me. They said how can they find a grown up man; he must be insane. You should go and search in pagalkhana (mental disease asylum). Donít bother us otherwise we shall lock you up.

Synthia w/o James Thapa, a resident of Darjeeling who brought her sisterís daughter about 12 years of age to Noida for getting her better education rues the time when the idea to bring her niece, Nisha came her mind. Holding an infant of about six months in her lap in the course of conversation she defensively says that she is an Indian and not a Nepali. She said:

My niece Nisha went missing at around 9 in the morning. We searched for her till around 2 in the afternoon. At last we went to the police post at the crossing. There the policeman said that I should come to the police station at 8 oíclock in the evening with the photograph of the girl. My husband and I went to the police station. They gave us a piece of paper and said that the report has been written. Later when we would go to the police to find out about our niece they would say that they are trying to find her, and she would come back. How many times could I go alone in a police station to hear the same answer.

Nand Lal
The father of another victim Payal whose cell phone call trace helped police to zero on to the house of the serial killer accused, had to face humiliation and threats as he persisted in getting a report registered on his daughterís disappearance. He said:

My daughter went missing on 7 May 2006. She was carrying my phone. She told me that she was going to D-5 sector 31 for looking for a job for her brother. When till late night she did not come back, I went looking for her. Next day I went to the police station. I told them that she had gone to meet Surender at D-5 house. They paid no attention to me. I kept going to the police station. On fourth day they told me that my daughter was a characterless woman and mocked at me. They told me to run away from the police station and never come back to bother us. In the end I had to ago to the court. It was beginning of more trouble for the whole family. You will not imagine the humiliation that I have gone through. I donít want to relive it again.

Dolly, a woman in early thirties came about 14 years ago from Nadia district of West Bengal. Her husband is a rickshaw puller. Her daughter Rimpa Haldar aged about 14, but looks elder in photograph that she holds, disappeared on one morning of January 2005. She does not know the date. She said questioningly:

Why does poor come to city? Only too earn and live. Who is ours in this big city. Who do we know? If anything happens to us we go to police. First time when we went to police they said they would look for her. They wrote her name and took her photograph. But later they did not listen to us. Once a police man asked us accusingly why do we come in big cities with grown up daughters (jinhe jaldi hee shahar kee havaa lag jaati hai aur ghar se bhag jaati hai )who get effected by the fast life of big city and elope with their lovers. They told us that they would inform us when they find her. Tell me what could we do after that?

Rita Sarkar
Rita w/o Tarak Sarkar too lost a daughter. Her name is Deepali Sarkar. She does not remember the month or the day when she disappeared. Her brother Amar added that it was 18 July 06. She showed me a photograph in pink frock that seemed to be clicked when the girl might have been about six years old. She said:

If Police wanted they could crack the case long back. But police is not for poor. They care if you live in a big house. If you go to police station it is scary. Policemen look at you with contemptuous looks. One police officer R N Singh or Yadav told me that my daughter was not in his pocket that he could give me.

Nageshwar Yadav
Umesh Kumar was s/o Nageshwar Yadav. He disappeared in March 2004, two days after holi (a popular Hindu festival that falls in the month of March every year). His father is a vegetable seller. Umesh used to study in fourth standard in Kanchan Public School.

Nageshwar left the village and shifted to another colony of Noida after the loss of the son. He came to the place looking for some news about his son when Nithari episode made head lines on television. He said:

It is all fate. I too went to police a few times like rest. They said it was not their job to go after looking for missing children. We are burdened with a lot of other work. However they took my address. They said they would inform me if they would find him.

Police version
At the Noida police station, police men refused to entertain any queries regarding the case. The duty officer sub-inspector Yaduraj Singh said that only the command (SSPís office) is supposed to comment on the case. However at the record section of the police station the in charge constable Ganga Ram admitted that as a rule there were no FIRís in the cases of disappearances whether that be child or the adult. He provided PUCL with a yellow wall poster that mentioned names of twelve victims of disappearance. The poster mentions four disappearances during 10 April 2006 to 7 May 2006. It is notable that Payal, the victim whose cell phone record nailed the accused, disappeared on 7 May 2006.

Former police SSP Piyush Mordia denied that there was any negligence from police side. ` FIR on missing cases as an unwritten rule are not registeredí, he said. The present police superintendent RKS Rathore admitted that there were lapses on the part of the police and the guilty have been punished. In any case the CBI is working out the case, he added.

Political leadershipís version
All major political party representatives visited the village and expressed shock at the incident and demanded a through probe into the case. Some political parties called it a blot on civilisation and others demanded dismissal of the state government. However the ruling partyís minister and brother of the Chief Minister, Shiv Pal Singh Yadav who visited the site of the incident had words of praise for the police and termed it one of the many incidents that keep happening in a big state!

Nithari incident is a reflection of the functioning of the police system in the large part of our country. It highlights the deep rooted insensitivity among police personnel at various levels of the police organization. It assumes sinister proportions when a crime is committed against poor people.

The incident of Nithari brings forth in open the criminal negligence and insensitivity of the local police towards the crime and the families of the victims.

Many innocent lives could be saved had the local police took serious note of the regular disappearances from a small urban village of 3500 people. In between 7 May 2006 and 10 May 2006 as many as four people including Payal disappeared. It is unusual that police failed to see a pattern of disappearances.

In two and half years as many as 9 heads changed as in charge of the local police station under whose jurisdiction was Nithari village. In a way no one felt responsible and accountable for what was going around. Each officer seemed to be biding his time to give way to another to preside over the police station that seemed to be run at the whim and fancy of unknown.

The police did not take action because the victims belonged to poor families. They neither could bribe the police nor exert any other influence to prompt the police to act against their complaint.

The families of the victims did not receive any community support because they were migrant workers and did not own a house in the village.

The lower level police officialís behaviors with the families of the victims was inhuman, pathetic and condemnable.

The senior officers failed to take note of the crime and failed miserably in their supervisory and leadership responsibilities.

The incident of Nithari must prompt central government to look into the state of policing in the country. It must seriously initiate measures to bring police reforms as per the recent Supreme Court guidelines.

As we have the `crime against womení cells so should there be created a `crime against childrení cell at the district level in all the police stations of the country, especially in the urban areas where crime against children are more rampant. This becomes pertinent in the light of the a UN sponsored report that states that as many as 45000 children went missing in the country in the year 2004; of these 11000 were never traced.

The scope of the investigation by CBI should include the role of the police negligence in the incidence at all levels and the accountability must be fixed; the guilty policemen should be charge sheeted and punished within a specific time period so that it serves as an example for future.

The incident shows that the institutions like National commission for Women (NCW) failed to take effective steps to stem the misery of the people. Two visits from the representative of a national level institution created to protect the rights of women did not bear any fruit. Is there something wrong in mandate, power and functioning of such statutory bodies? There institutions must be reformed positively so that they become useful to the people and do not remain paper tigers.

As per the reports and deposition of the local people as many as more than 40 children went missing from Nithari. However the CBI has registered cases on only 19 cases. CBI must investigate all the cases and bring the truth of the matter.

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014