Last-minute shopping is underway — Usha Thakur’s son will get married in 10 days. But she has other children on her mind.
Thakur, 54, was among the key people who went to police stations and wrote numerous letters on behalf of the parents of the missing Nithari children, and eventually helped begin a sweeping investigation. She helped HT Live, the neighbourhood weekly of the Hindustan Times, break the story of the Nithari disappearances in May 2005, when 12 girls were missing.
It is a story that rickshaw puller Anil Halder knows well. His daughter Rimpa disappeared in January 2005, and he says he was repeatedly turned away by police officials at the Sector 20 police station. “The police told me to produce witnesses of kidnapping. How could I have done that?" said Halder. “It was only when behenji (Thakur) went with me that the police registered an FIR,” he says. The official has since been dismissed and could not be reached for comment.
“Once an FIR was registered, people approached me with similar stories. I was shocked,” Thakur said. “As many as 12 girls went missing from the same spot — near the water tank in Nithari — within a few months. Even as the numbers were rising, the police kept sleeping.” She wrote to every one — from the local police to the office of the president. “Each failed visit to a police station strengthened my resolve,” she said.
She helped the parents get many FIRs registered over the past two years. Her campaign finally led her to the doorstep of the prime suspects, Mohinder Singh Pandher and his servant Surinder Koli.
“Around four months ago, the father of a missing child informed me that he saw a broken limb in the drain just outside the Pandher residence. I went with him to the police station but they just refused to give us a hearing,” Thakur said.
Her efforts helped bring national attention to the gruesome serial killings – but only after numerous children had been killed.