Ahmedabad, Feb. 6: While one India was shining, another was sinking.
Five children, aged nine and below, were flung into the Narmada from a 65-foot-high bridge near Bharuch in south Gujarat by their father.
Salim Ghulam Hussain Sheikh, 35, an autorickshaw driver hailing from Surat and living with his in-laws in Veradia village, 15 km from Bharuch town, was seen throwing his daughters into the river on Thursday evening.
The eyewitness, Shantaben Patel, 60, who stays in a hut at a riverside slum, saw Salim running away after flinging his five daughters one by one from the Jadeshwar bridge that links Bharuch and Ankleshwar. Police launched a search on being alerted by Shantaben, but no bodies have been recovered so far.
Salim worked at a power loom in Surat’s Limbayat area before shifting to Veradia village after his factory was burnt down in the post-Godhra carnage two years ago. Without regular employment, he did odd jobs before his father-in-law, a vegetable vendor in Veradia, asked him to stay with him. Salim and his wife, Rozan, 31, had had a love marriage.
On shifting to Veradia, Salim made ends meet by driving the autorickshaw and occasionally selling vegetables. His three eldest daughters — Shagufta, 9, Rukhsar, 8, and Yasmin — attend a local school. Simran, 4, three-year-old Suhana and 10-month-old Sabir were his other children. Sabir is now with the mother.
Rozan told police that Salim had to borrow Rs 5,000 for medicines as one of their children was not keeping well. He was upset at not being able to repay the loan, she said. Salim’s wife added that he was disturbed and had been going through a bad phase, which may have led him to kill their children.
Rozan said her husband had told her that he was going to a famous dargah near Bharuch with their children. Barely an hour later, he rang up Ali Munshi, a neighbour, to say he was heading towards Bharuch railway station to commit suicide. But he told Ali he would hand over the children to someone near the railway tracks and asked him to come and pick them up.
District superintendent of police Amarsinh Vasava does not think the children’s bodies can be recovered as the bridge is near the Arabian Sea.
A search operation at the site of the drowning is being carried out 15 km on either side of the bridge.
“The flow of the river is not turbulent, but the water is cold and nearly 20-foot deep. In such circumstances, bodies are recovered after about 48 hours,” investigating officer V.J. Patel said.