SOFIA has kept count of the precise number of days since her husband was arrested along with her two minor children aged 12 and 16 years for allegedly murdering their 17-year-old relative. “It has been over 18 weeks now,” Sofia says.
The count in weeks is on account of the fact that her husband, the breadwinner for the household, would get paid once a week, and the family began to count time as per number of weeks they went without money for food.
“We have not had much to eat in days. When there is nothing, I manage to scramble and buy rice. Most meals are only plain rice,” she says.
In June, at the Ambernath station on the suburban main line of Central Railway, Government Railway Police found an abandoned gunny bag with the body of a teenager dumped inside. On scrutinising CCTV footage of a few railway stations, two men and two children could be seen carrying the gunny bag.
They were identified and later arrested. The police, in their investigation, found that the 17-year-old victim had been suffering from tuberculosis and was living with his uncle, Sofia’s husband, after his single mother, who was also suffering from TB, could not take care of him any longer and left for their village in Bihar.
The Thane police claim the teenager was smothered to death by his uncle, frustrated at being unable to bear the additional burden of his medical expenses while his family struggled in penury. Sofia denies the boy was murdered, but says he developed medical complications and passed away.
Her two minor children, apprehended for having allegedly helped carry the gunny sack to the station where it was abandoned, were sent to the observation home in Bhiwandi where a social worker with Resource Cell for Juvenile Justice, which works with children in conflict with the law, intervened.
The first visit to the family’s Mumbra home revealed that after the arrest, five other family members were living in an alarming condition.
“The youngest child of the couple is a two-year old girl. She has been malnourished and was unable to walk properly in the months after the arrest since the family had no income after the arrest to feed her any nutritious food,” said Vijay Doiphode, the social worker at Bhiwandi.
The home visit by the social worker revealed that the family, which has lived in the city for a few years, had absolutely no documents to show they were bonafide citizens.
The children had never been to school, nor did the family have other documents such as Adhaar card or ration card to make them eligible for government schemes or other benefits.
While the Thane police is yet to file a chargesheet, Doiphode says their home visits revealed it was unfortunate circumstances in the family that led to two children being booked for the heinous offence of murder.
The two continue to be lodged in the observation home. With assistance, Sofia managed to continue the job her husband had left behind.
The 26-year old, who married her husband after the death of his first wife, makes floral buttons for retailers who pay her Rs 200 for 3-4 days of work after the finished product is delivered. It barely manages to feed everyone, she says.
“I fear I will be left without a roof since we have not been able to pay rent for the past few months,” Sofia said.