D-5, Sector 31, Noida. The house of Moninder Singh Pandher lies deserted. A dug up drain right in front is a harsh and constant reminder of what happened a year ago. At a little distance, a group of nearly 10 personnel of the Noida police sit quietly — guarding the spot after the serial killings took place there.
The damage-control exercise follows the flak the police invited for not reacting to the cries and complaints of families of the children who went missing and were later found dead. On the Noida police website, there’s more evidence of attempts to win trust.
“We want to assure you that the Noida Police shall not leave any stone unturned in order to ensure justice, maintain law & order and control crime,” reads the Noida Police’s home page. “We are proud of the trust and confidence which people repose in us,” it adds.
The claim rings hollow as you speak to Nithari’s residents. “My hair stands on its end when I cross the house on my way to school. I feel even more scared because of the police there,” says 11-year-old Sandip. The child is sure about what he doesn’t want to become when he grows up. “I don’t want to be a police officer. Otherwise, I will become like them — greedy,” he says.
Sandip’s mistrust is endorsed by a Ministry of Women and Child Development’s committee that investigated the sexual abuse, rape and murder of Nithari’s children. The committee observed that “police apathy and indifference to the reports of missing children made by parents/guardians was evident”. As per the statistics provided by the then Noida SSP, 29 persons/children went missing in 2005 and 2006.
“He stated that about 70 per cent of the missing persons returned on their own, which is, however, not reflected as per the data provided by him,” the report added.
About the police presence at Nithari, an official says requesting anonymity, “People of Nithari have become suspicious of affluent families. The rich-poor divide is strong.” The police, he adds, are keeping their ear to the ground.
The committee’s report also said, “As many of the victims’ families came from poorer sections of society, there was a general perception among these families that the police did not care to listen to their problems.” That perception hasn’t changed. Living in fear still, Maya Devi, says, “I feel that if my daughter goes missing now, the police will still dismiss it by saying that she is my responsibility and she ran away,” That’s what the police had done a year ago, while the killer was at work.
Though the Ministry’s report said that Nithari villagers find the present officials more approachable, on the ground the story is different. And the message on the Noida police website that reads “Trust Us” only invites greater mistrust.
(Some names have been changed)