As news of the arrest of a 19-year-old boy in connection with the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl spread on Thursday, hundreds of residents of Nehru Nagar gathered outside the local police station.
The residents accused the police of making the accused "a scapegoat". "This is just the police’s cover up for their failure," said Ismail Yunus Khan, owner of a zari unit.
If locals looked worried all these days, on Thursday they seemed confused. "The police first said all the three killings were committed by one person but now they claim there could be another person involved," said Mohammed Imran (26), a local who works with a non-governmental organisation.
They said they still do not feel safe. "Even if we agree that this boy raped and killed the nine-year-old, our daughters are still not safe because he was responsible for only one murder. The man who killed the two other girls is still out there," said Fatima Hasina (34), mother of two girls.
Hasina said the third murder had shaken the residents’ faith in the police and they find it hard to believe the police even now.
In the narrow lanes of Kasaiwada near Kurla station, where the accused grew up, there was anger and resentment against the police. Residents came out on the streets in large numbers to support the boy. They hurled abuses at the police.
"This boy is innocent," said Mohammed Ali, a resident of Kasaiwada. "The police have made him their scapegoat."
When television channels started flashing the boy’s picture, residents cut off the cable wires and attacked a few journalists, who had gone to Kasaiwada to speak to his family. The police had to intensify patrolling to ease the situation.
"Why will any person commit a crime so near to his residence?" an enraged Sultana Mohammed asked. "We want the police to arrest the culprit but they should not harass innocent people."