For six hours on Tuesday, police officers and residents of Thakkar Bappa colony in Nehru Nagar frantically searched every bylane of the area after the parents of a six-year-old girl complained that she was missing.
The area, where three girls were found murdered after they went missing in separate incidents earlier this year, was a picture of hysteria until the girl, Anjali Charotia, returned home in the evening.
She was asleep at a family friend’s place unaware of the tension her disappearance had created in her neighbourhood.
Anjali lives with her parents and two siblings in a rented room in the colony. She stepped out to play at 10.30am.
“Around noon, I went to call Anjali for lunch because she had to go to school at 1 pm. When I did not see her at the ground where she normally plays, I asked some of her friends,”
the class 1 student’s mother, Savita, said.
A boy told 27-year-old Savita that an old man dressed in a white shirt and black trousers had taken Anjali with him on the pretext of buying her ice cream.
“With three girls being raped and murdered in the area earlier in the year, I feared the worst,” Savita said.
In an hour, officers of the Mumbai Crime Branch and local residents had put up posters with Anjali’s photographs across Nehru Nagar.
“We formed teams and scoured all of Kurla and the railway stations,” a Crime Branch officer said, requesting anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media. “The initial hours are always critical.”
At 5.15 pm, as Savita was talking to journalists and pleading to the public to help trace her daughter, there was a huge cheer from a crowd gathered at a distance.
Anjali had returned, dazed but safe.
“The girl had gone to the house of the family’s former landlady. She had lunch there and went off to sleep. The landlady later came to drop Anjali home when she saw the commotion,” the officer said.
He said the old man the boys had referred to was only a manifestation of the fear psychosis in the area.
“Given the incidents that have taken place in the area we have to be extra careful every time something like this happens,” the officer said.