Aug. 5: Ten-year-old Ayush Chauhan was smart as well as lucky. The Class IV student gave a fictitious phone number to the three kidnappers who had dragged him into a car on a Ghaziabad street on May 11.
As they kept trying the number to make a ransom call to his father, Ayush gave them the slip.
Eighteen-day-old Saumya Lodi had no such luck when two masked men kidnapped her from her home in July end. Saumya’s body was found a day later in a Ghaziabad drain. Her father Virendra Lodi, who works with a Mumbai construction firm, could not pay the Rs 25 lakh the abductors had demanded.
Kidnappings have become an everyday affair in the congested Uttar Pradesh industrial hub of Ghaziabad, 20km east of Delhi and part of the crime-prone National Capital Region. In contrast to Bihar during Lalu Prasad’s rule, most of the abductions here involve children. Their well-to-do families are set ransom demands ranging from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 50 lakh.
“Ghaziabad could soon become a rival to Phoenix in Arizona, dubbed the world’s kidnapping capital by the (US investigative agency) FBI,” a local child rights activist said.
In reply to an RTI application by NGO Prerna Seva Sansthan, Ghaziabad police recently said that 251 children went missing from the city of 23 lakh people last year, of whom 115 are still untraced. Of the 76 children who disappeared this year till July 15, only 23 have returned and five have been murdered.
Those that have returned home did so because their parents paid the ransom, police sources said. The force, they said, registered 90 FIRs last year in connection with the 251 disappearances but have not made any progress in any of the cases.
“Policing Ghaziabad is most challenging,” said Harikant Tripathi, special secretary with the state home department.
“It’s close to Delhi and Haryana apart from the state’s Chambal-Etawah-Mainpuri ravine territory, which is home to innumerable criminal gangs and provides the kidnappers with hideouts. The children of rich parents are sitting ducks for these gangs.”
In July, the National Human Rights Commission served a notice on the state government over the missing children of Ghaziabad after several NGOs filed a petition. The government has another week or so to reply.
“There may be several other instances in Ghaziabad,” the commission notice observed, “where the police might not have registered missing reports.”
Child rights activists say the parents of abducted minor girls often fail to report the disappearances for fear of social ostracism and police harassment.
“Even if a report is lodged, the police forget all about it. I’m sure many of the kidnapped children were killed or used in trafficking. They are being used for begging, prostitution, or menial work in Delhi homes,” Prerna director Tarun Gupta told The Telegraph.
Trader Satyavir Sharma’s son Himanshu, 12, has been missing since May 20. “I don’t have the resources to pay the ransom. The police are not doing anything; I have almost given up hope,” Sharma said.
Kishan Swaroop, whose 14-year-old son Vikki went missing on his way home from school on June 20, said: “I wake up every morning hoping my son would return but nothing happens.”
Under pressure from rights activists and the Centre, the state had set up a police station dedicated to tackling human trafficking in Ghaziabad on June 14 last year. But the activists say its officers have been transferred twice since then and the police station remains poorly equipped.
Ghaziabad also functions as a transit zone for girls trafficked from Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa to work as domestic servants or prostitutes in Delhi, sources said. The human trafficking police station in Ghaziabad had conducted raids on trains passing through the city last September but such drives have become rare now.
Overall, 11 children go missing every hour in India, according to the NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan, but there’s little official action.
The police had refused to register cases during large-scale disappearances of migrant workers’ children some six-seven years ago in and around Nithari village of Noida, 60-65km from Ghaziabad. Eventually, the skeletons of 19 children were found in a drain behind a Noida house in December 2006.
Several kidnappings of industrial executives have been reported recently from Noida, a more upscale town than Ghaziabad.