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'We want our daughter back'

For Suresh and Kamala Shukla, it was a case of deja vu when their 14-year-old daughter went missing nearly three months ago, reports Neha Bhayana.

india Updated: Dec 06, 2006 03:06 IST

For Suresh and Kamala Shukla, it was a case of déjà vu when their 14-year-old daughter went missing nearly three months ago. Sushma, an elder daughter of the Shuklas, had gone missing four years ago when she was 17.

They suspect that both the daughters have been kidnapped and probably forced into prostitution. "We have lost the reason to live, what we do now?" is their constant lament. The Shuklas also have two sons and one more daughter, who is married.

On September 17 this year, Shail Kumari went out to buy tea powder from a nearby grocer but never returned. There is another strange twist here, Shail had "disappeared" six days earlier, on September 9 but was found two days later, beaten up and with injury marks. The first time she had left for evening tuitions near her house in Malwani, a distance of barely one kilometer but she never reached the class nor did he return home. All their worst fears and trauma associated with the loss of their first daughter came back like when the parents ultimately realised that Shail, like her sibling, 17-years-old Sushma, had disappeared. The very next day they lodged a missing complaint with the Malvani Police. Shail, then, had been found roaming in a dazed condition in the Malwani police grounds.

Suresh, a gardener and his wife who works as a housemaid, were too happy to see their daughter again to bother with how she had mysteriously landed up there. "It has been over two months. I have not even heard my daughter's voice," laments Kamala, wiping away tears with a corner of her sari as she sits in a corner of her two-room shanty in Malvani's Sai Kripa Nagar. Since the disappearance, she has stopped going to work.

Since September 17, the couple has been knocking the doors of the police station along with Agnes Salian, the head mistress of St. Anthony's School where Shail studied in Standard IX.
 
In the six days that Shail was at home after she went missing for the first time, she was constantly crying and did not utter a word. "She told us she had been beaten and could not say anything. She could not remember where she was taken but said she was with her sister," said Suresh. Shail even took her parents to a house in Kandivili, but they found only three men there not her sister.
 
The Shuklas suspect their daughter has been abducted both times for trafficking by the owners of a pan-beedi shop by day, about 100 metres away from the school. The couple suspects them of peddling drugs by night. Further, the owners are also Shukla's  neighbours and wanted to buy their home but the Shuklas were not selling.

"They even threatened us after the fallout about four years ago that they would take away our children," said Suresh, who has been working as a gardener at 14 bungalows for 25 years. The Shuklas have told the police about their suspicions but the paan shop owners have yet to be interrogated.
Another person they suspect is a local bangle maker Sahoo, and have also named him in the complaint. They police questioned him, though, and Sahoo has now filed a counter-complaint against the Shuklas.
  
Senior Inspector Sanjay Jhadav ruled out the possibility that Shail is the victim of trafficking. "If that was the case we would know. The evidence so far does not suggest that she was picked up by a gang nor do we have evidence that she has eloped with someone as no one is missing in the neighbourhood. We are looking into the case," said Jhadav.

"She is a grown up girl of about 15 and can certainly take care of herself. Even if she is in confinement she could cry for help. There are good people around who would help her," he added.

The Shuklas also allege that the Malvani Police has been indifferent and sometimes very rude to them. They also keep telling them to "forget the matter". "How can we forget this? First I lost one child now another one. How can they ask me to forget it?" asks Kamala. "The police also told me that that Shail is happy and is getting married to someone. If they know where she is and if this is true why they don't let me meet her then she can marry," she added.

"In front of me, one officer told the parents that even if their daughter was found, he would not return her since they tortured the girl," alleged Salian, adding that she and other members of the parish women's cell who have approached the police have been asked to not waste their time. Salian said she had known the family for years and could never imagine them ill-treating their child.
         
When confronted about these allegations, Police Inspector Ramchandra Davde of Malvani Police completely denied it. "The police will never tell parents to forget their child. It is the case of abduction of a minor. We take it very seriously," he said. Davde also hinted that the girl had run away and was not abducted. When asked why he felt he said this was his hunch, not an official statement.
 
As for the investigation, Davde said the police was "making all efforts and following procedures" but they have no clue about Shail's whereabouts yet.

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Salian and the Shuklas are seeking answers to many questions ---How did the police suddenly find Shail in the ground? How can they say for sure she has run away from home and is happy? How can they make statements like they will not return her even if they find her? 
     
Shail's teachers describe her as a "simple, innocent and talkative" girl. They don't think the average student who they saw in class every day could have run away from home.
  
Her aggrieved parents are not convinced about the police's efforts. They recounted how it was only at the intervention of director David Dhavan's wife, for whom Suresh works, that the police registered a non-cognisable offense on September 17, said the Shuklas. "We are poor people so they don't take us seriously," said Kamala, "but we want our daughter back."