regular-article-logo Saturday, 18 May 2024

Gone girls and boys

The latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau tells us that in 2022 India has experienced a surge in kidnapping and abduction cases, with over one lakh reported incidents across the country

Gopal Krishna Gandhi Published 24.12.23, 07:19 AM
Representational image

Representational image Sourced by The Telegraph

It happened some six years ago in a ‘posh’ residential colony in New Delhi.

Kanha (name changed) was the seven- or eight-year-old son of a woman who is by current norms of upper-middle-class etiquette called ‘a domestic’. She would sweep and swab and mind various chores in the house. Kanha had gone that day, after his regular school hours, to a tutor for extra classes. Tuition over, he stepped out and was seen by a few to move towards what was assumed to be his home. He did not reach home. He has not been seen since. Frantic searches and enquiries by the mother and her shocked employers yielded no information, no clues, no hypotheses either. Vendors who are regulars in the area were asked if they had seen him around that day. All said, “Nahin… nahin dekha… nahin malum.” The phrase, ‘pata nahin’, cut a gash in the mother’s heart every time she heard it. Pilgrimages were suggested, to shrines of different faiths. They were undertaken, the deities propitiated. Astrologers were recommended. They were met, paid. No Kanha.


The police were sensitive enough to take down the complaint but could make no headway. Dark hints were then thrown to say it must be an ‘inside’ affair, an act of family spite. ‘But we have no family enmities, no property disputes…’ was met by other ‘domestics’ with scepticism. ‘If someone has carried him away for ransom, we would be contacted wouldn’t we…?’ the family asked. ‘Besides, what money do we have to part with?’

The boy’s family has resigned itself to Kanha having been lost. There is a faint hope in the parents that he will one day return, a grown man, declining to talk about what happened, where he was taken, but laden with silent gifts, even money… a dream.

The above is what may be called a ‘real, personally known occurrence’.

Faint memories were stirred of ‘famous’ kidnappings by this real-life story. In 1966 occurred the kidnapping in Australia of three siblings in what is known as the Beaumont Kidnappings. Jane Beaumont, Arnna Beaumont and Grant Beaumont disappeared from Glenelg Beach near Adelaide, South Australia, on January 26 that year. Many people had seen the three children on and near that beach in the company of ‘a tall man with fairish to light-brown hair and a thin face with a sun-tanned complexion and medium build, aged in his mid-thirties.’ That is all. They have not been seen or heard of since. The Beaumont kidnappings are ‘big’ torments.

But apart from ‘big and famous’ kidnappings, there are hundreds upon hundreds in our own country that we just do not know of.

The latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau tells us that in 2022 India has experienced a surge in kidnapping and abduction cases, with over one lakh reported incidents across the country. Surge in kidnappings? Why? How? This figure comes to an average of more than 294 cases per day or over 12 every hour. In 2022, from the reported 1,07,588 kidnapping and abduction cases, no less than 76,069 cases were of children, the equivalents of Kanha and the Beaumont children. This disturbingly high number of cases highlights the vulnerability of children to such criminal activities.

The NCRB has cautioned against assuming an “increase in crime” as opposed to an “increase in registration of crime by police”. The report tells us quite rightly that effective police action can and has led to an increase in reported cases.

But it would not be wrong to assume that if there are 12 registered kidnappings of children every hour, the number of those actually being kidnapped every hour is bound to be more. By how many, I dare not speculate.

True, kidnappings and abductions are only one among a plethora of crimes. But the fact that they involve children, including (and mainly) girl-children, must make us, well, scream. William Blake’s lines come to mind: “A Robin Red breast in a Cage/ Puts all Heaven in a Rage.”

This is no ordinary crime that we are living with. This is not just a crime against humanity but an outrage against humanity. And, yet, barring one or two media reports, no one has howled in protest. Not politicians, not civil society, if it can be called that.

I can hear cracked old voices say ‘Kidnappings are as old as the hills… They have always happened, always will…’ May be, but then I would like to say, ‘Would you like it if your child or grandchild was among the 12 children and more kidnapped every hour and say, this is an old phenomenon…’ Would you?

We can imagine what must be happening to the kidnapped children if they have not been murdered. They would be abused. Just that. Abused.

And there is without doubt a class aspect here. The majority of those kidnapped children belong to what may be called ‘India’s poor’. If any of the 12 children per hour belonged to an upper-middle-class or well-to-do urban family, not to speak of a celebrity family, the whole country would have been shaken up. The unknown becoming invisible is not news.

No police establishment is unaware of the sites of trafficking and prostitution. No institution can be without the knowledge of the ways in which child labour — forced, violent and bizarre — is practised.

I believe something like a Mission: Rescue Kidnapped Children is imperative. We simply cannot live with the fact that every single hour a dozen or so or more of India’s children are getting abducted. The following thoughts are shared for what they are worth with the ardent hope that they can be read and improved upon.

Kidnappings can hardly ever be individual enterprises. They have to be carried out by a gang or a group. This must make their operation easier to unravel. Awards for information and for ‘insider’ revelations should be announced. Again, one can hear the objection, ‘Will this not lead to fake kidnappings for the sake of the award money?’ Of course, it will. But it will take no missile technology to ascertain the fake from the real kidnapping.

I would also suggest an amnesty scheme under which kidnappers are encouraged to come clean against non-punitive arrangements. This would require some careful fine-tuning of rules but should be tried, at least experimentally.

Finally, an all-India conference over two or three days should be called by the Union government in the department of child welfare to be attended by families of kidnapped children selected by state commissions for the welfare of women and children based on registered cases. This will be an eye-opener to all of us about the society we are living in — blinkered. The deliberations will also be therapeutic for the parents or guardians as they hear each other. And I believe constructive suggestions will emerge from them for the detection of and reunification with the kidnapped children.

I have two other post-final suggestions: surely there are cases of ‘genuine’ kidnapped children having been found and returned to their families. They should be central to the conference, describing their experiences. And to give the entire exercise meaning, the conference should be inaugurated not by a VVIP from the government but by a ‘kidnapped returnee’. And I would suggest that the conference be co-chaired by a panel of the following strong women: Maneka Gandhi (who has headed the ministry of women and child development), the relentless crusader for social justice and gender rights, Brinda Karat, ‘top-cop’ Kiran Bedi, Shabana Azmi, and Kanimozhi, the Tamil Nadu MP who has pioneered bold legislative measures in the private members’ bills mode.

I will conclude with another Blake quote: “Some to Misery are Born/ Every Morn and every Night/ Some are Born to sweet delight/ Some are Born to sweet delight/ Some are Born to Endless Night.”

Can the new year dawn in light for these children in darkness?

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