In November 2014, following a Supreme Court order, the Mumbai police launched a drive to find missing children.
A special team was set up in every police station, headed by a sub-inspector and assisted by two or three constables, including a woman constable. It was made mandatory to register an FIR in every case of a child going missing, instead of the missing report filed earlier.
The drive is showing results, and has rekindled hope for the thousands of families waiting for news of their missing children.
Three years ago in April, eight-year-old Manjit woke up early in the morning, took five rupees from his father Chandrapratap Tiwari, 40, and ran to a newspaper stall under the over-bridge at Cotton Green railway station. Manjit, then in Class 2, religiously followed cricket and wanted to read the match analysis in a Hindi newspaper.
This was part of a daily routine in the Tiwari family, which survives on a tea stall near their shanty, adjacent to a Shiv temple in Cotton Green. After reading the paper every morning, Manjit would accompany his siblings Diya and Kishore to school. Their oldest sibling, Atul, is a truck driver and was away on duty.
Manjit did not come back home. Sending Diya and Kishore off to school, Chandrapratap and his wife Karuna, 38, went to look for him. “My son is conversant in many languages. He was a smart boy and everyone in our area knew him,” said Karuna. “That’s why we never worried about his safety.”
The first few hours were spent searching in Manjit’s usual hangouts. “The man at the stall told us Manjit had left after buying the paper,” said Chandrapratap.
Around noon, the Tiwaris approached the Kalachowkie police station. “Someone kidnapped him,” said Chandrapratap. The police filed a missing report and flashed the information to all Mumbai and railway police stations.
This was the beginning of a long search that drained the household emotionally and financially. “We barely make a living from the tea stall. Had it not been for his older brother’s income, the other children could not have continued their education,” said Karuna. From children’s shelter homes to NGOs, hospitals, police lock-ups and even the mortuary, Chandrapratap and his acquaintances searched everywhere. “He just vanished.”
A few tantriks also fleeced the family by cashing in on their distress.
“The police would ask us to give clues. If we had any knowledge, why would we go to them?” asked Karuna.
Manjit’s memories haunted each member of the family. “My mother and I used to feed him. Those memories and the thought of his well-being would torment me every time we sat down to eat,” said Divya, who is now in Class 8.
The incident has left scars. Karuna stopped trusting anyone and sent Ashok back to their village. “Our son won’t come back. Please don’t try to scratch the old wounds by asking about him,” she said, even as Chandrapratap said he has not lost faith in the police, who, he feels, are finally serious about tracing his son.