A lost-and-found story with a classic Bollywood-style happy ending has played out at a humble neighbourhood in Madhya Pradesh’s capital city on Friday.
However, 12 years is a long time and 17-year-old Riya’s homecoming was a bitter-sweet event as she found only her relatives at their Naya Basera shanty in the heart of city on Friday afternoon.
Her parents — of the Pardhi tribe — have since separated; her mother Shyamudi has apparently re-married and her father Ela Singh is now based in Indore.
Riya, born Narinder, was rescued from New Delhi and handed over to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), according to police.
When Riya revealed that she belonged to Bhopal, Delhi police coordinated with their MP counterparts and brought her here on Thursday.
Here, Riya told the CWC chairman KS Dubey that she had seen a locality and a house on the way that she thought might be her home.
“I was taken by surprise, but decided to take a chance and sent her with the Delhi police to trace back the route. At Naya Basera, Riya recognised her home and aunt and the family and neighbours also recognised her instantly. It is indeed a wonderful coincidence,” Dubey said.
The CWC then decided to complete the legal formalities to hand over Riya to her guardians.
"We have called for her father and would complete rest of the formalities when he is here," the chairman said.
Back at home, Riya — along with her uncle, aunt and cousin — were surrounded by enthusiastic and happy neighbours and extended family.
"She looks like just her mother. There is no doubt that she is the child who went missing 12 years ago. It is indeed a miracle that she is back," said Kaushalya, a close relative.
But despite the simple story there appeared to be missing links in Riya’s version of events.
Riya claimed that she landed in Delhi after boarding a train from Bhopal to find her parents, who were then away working in another town.
"I was taken in by a woman who treated me well and then handed me over to an orphanage. They even schooled me up to class 8. But I was missing my parents so I told police that I hailed from Bhopal," she said.
Her neighbours and cousin Saitraj, however, said that Riya had gone missing from Delhi where her parents had gone to work more than a decade ago.
Chairperson of the Delhi CWC Charu Makkad too admitted that there were discrepancies in Riya’s story.
She said that the Delhi police had produced her before the CWC after finding her unattended in July, 2013.
They found that she had run away from a shelter home and also from the house of a woman who had later taken her in.
"Earlier she said she was an orphan. It was only few months ago that she spoke about her links to Chhattisgarh and Bhopal. We don’t know why she chose to remain silent on this matter for all these months," Makkad told HT over phone.