All the while that he searched underneath, it never occurred to the father that his son may have met his end only a few feet away, inside the unlikeliest of locations, with traffic roaring above and the drug addicts smoking up below.
The father, a taxi driver, is still trying to remember the last conversation with his six-year-old boy on October 13. The boy stormed out of his home in Wadala after he got impatient waiting for dinner.
Even as the father spent every hour over two months putting up posters across railway stations and searching for the boy; for the Mumbai Police, the search turned into a murder probe on the morning of December 24.
So far, the Mumbai Police Crime Branch has arrested three persons who they say lured the boy into accompanying them with a piece of chikki. They later sexually assaulted and killed him. The men, Krishnanarayan Yadav (22), Tausif Ali Taufik alias Shaikh (24) and Mohammed Ali (22), were caught in Wadala Sunday. A fourth man has not been arrested so far only because he is suffering from tuberculosis.
Seventy nights after he went missing, it was a failed cable connection that would lead the police to the fully decomposed body of the child, inside the underbelly of the Eastern Freeway spanning between Chembur and CST. From the crime scene, forensic experts picked up a beer bottle, a few snuffed beedis, a blade and a broken tile.
On December 23 last year, three cable technicians reached the Freeway tracking a broken phone cable, leading to signal failure across Sewree Koliwada and Wadala. Two of them mounted a crane and entered a cavity in the bridge, right below the tarmac. Having located the cable, they fixed it and started on the way back. Only, the crane was gone and so was their third colleague, who was tasked with waiting for them with it. Faced with an uncertain wait or the option of exploring the inky confines of six-foot-high tunnel, they switched on the flashlights of their mobile phones and walked on.
Their trek took a kilometer and a half onwards and light came at the end when the tunnel began to dive towards the ground. Finally, a way out. They expected to alight at Bhakti Park junction but the beams of the phones fell onto a small skeleton and a pair of red half-pants, the father’s only aids to identification. The body was only reported to the police the next day.
“My boy had been learning Arabic for the past six months at the nearby Hussaini Masjid. His routine did not allow him to venture too far from home. He would wake up by 6 am, brush his teeth and rush to the mosque, then return for breakfast around 10 am and play at home until lunch, fall asleep, wake up later for the afternoon namaaz, and then go to sleep again,” recalls the father, adding, “He had made only three friends because he was still relatively new to the area.” The family of five had moved to Wadala in February 2015.
At the mouth of the lane where the taxi driver lives with his nine months pregnant wife and children, a nine-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son is a common toilet on one side and a mosque on the other. Sixty three steps further is the home and 20 steps ahead into the now tapering lane is a shop where the boy, like all the other children used to buy toffees, chocolates, tattoos and toys for less than Rs 5.
“The boy was no different from these boys, can’t imagine him and what happened to him. None of us can comprehend how from this lane, which was his playing-field, he could end up below the freeway,” said the shopkeeper who did not want to be named.
The investigation ticked off all the boxes. Friends were questioned, so were family and neighbours. The investigators claim the case was difficult as they recovered several other elements over the period of probe, including used condoms, oil sachets, and even a blue jumpsuit.
Doctors at Sion Hospital were compelled to perform an on-site postmortem, as the bones were too delicate to be moved. “There were no organs left. It was a yellow t-shirt which helped the parents identify the body,” said one of the three doctors. The rodents below the flyover had destroyed the body, say doctors.
The doctor said they used LED lights to conduct the two-and-a-half-hour-long postmortem. “We wanted to go by the book and not compromise the investigation. Unlike when Sheena Bora’s body was first found, there was a miscarriage of justice in 2012. We don’t want to receive any flak,” the senior doctor added. Dr Rajesh Dere, in charge of the postmortem centre at Sion Hospital, has opined the cause of death as a “head injury fracture”.
The beer bottle is now being shown as the “breakthrough”. The police went hunting for the wholesaler who led to the retailer in the Wadala area. “We kept tabs on the locals who frequently visited the retailer and after purchasing the alcohol who went around unlit places under the freeway,” said an investigator. The police claim the three accused were found in an open field near the Indira Nagar slum. Eight days of grilling later, the three are alleged to have confessed to the crime. An officer said the police were now waiting for the forensic evidence to match.
At a press meet Monday, Assistant Commissioner of Police Ajay Shastry said the arrested accused were labourers and drug addicts. The 50-year-old labourer, who is currently detained by the Crime Branch officers of Unit IV, was found after the suspects led the police to him. The blue jumpsuit, the police said, belonged to him, after they confirmed the size matched.
The police said one of the accused had tickets booked to Mumbai and Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, as an alibi they attempted in hindsight, a fact that surfaced during the probe.
“For so many days, I had been under the freeway looking for my son but never did it strike me that my boy could have dumped under the freeway. If only I had applied my mind some more,” said the father.
The distraught father said he sat below the freeway for hours, observing various people under the shelter of the freeway do drugs.
His initial fears were that his son might have been run over and his remains hidden. But he searched on foot every shrub, tall grass and even the creek that stretched from the Bhakti Park junction to Mahul.
Just a week before his son disappeared, the father had purchased a second-hand white scooter, which his son had dreamed of riding and was very possessive of.
“There were three other similar white scooters parked outside our lane. My son would sit on one scooter and claim that it was his. He would guard it from other people. He was too young to differentiate between the scooters,” the father added.
In the months since the disappearance, the father has ridden the scooter to three children’s homes. “I have covered 8,000 km in the last three months looking for my son. I went to the children’s homes twice a day every alternate day. The authorities allowed me to go inside and look for my son, but I never found him,” he said.
On Christmas eve, when the taxi driver and his wife were home, they had a visit from the police and were asked to accompany the officers.
“We were taken below the freeway and shown the spot. It was a skeletal and I feared it was my son’s only because of its height. My wife could not control herself but after I was shown a pair of red shorts, I was sure the body was of my son. Last Eid, I bought red and blur shorts. My youngest son fought to wear the blue ones, so my older son wore the red,” he said.
The father now has returned to Mumbai, to help the police in its investigation, after leaving his wife in their village in Uttar Pradesh.
“She is still in shock and the pain of labour is not worse than the loss of our child. She is due to have a child in the next 12 days. I hope we get justice before our newborn comes. I hope I return to my wife and children with good news. As we don’t know whether to celebrate a new child or grieve over our dead child,” he said.