In a heartwarming tale that involved trawling Google Maps and using WhatsApp, a 14-year-old Nepali boy who got lost in 2009 in Mumbai finally found his father living in a far-flung town of West Bengal. The boy had been living alone in Mumbai for the past seven years.
Just two weeks ago, the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in Maharashtra granted permission to his father Dhananjay Bahadur to take custody of his son after reviewing all identification documents.
In 2009, soon after a search started to locate Satyadev Bahadur’s parents, the CWC officers gave it up as they could not find any lead.
Half a decade later, a child welfare counsellor found a lead in 2014 and started his own investigation to find the boy’s family. The lead was a school adjacent to a railway track and a water tank found on Google Maps.
Satyadev was seven years old when he was found wandering alone at Kalyan Station by the railway police. He was handed over to Childline NGO. He told them he was from ‘Andhra’. When police found no leads of a similar missing case from the state, it started searching in villages near Panvel and Kalyan and subsequently placed the child under CWC. He was declared an orphan and admitted to Government Children Home for Boys (Junior) in Ulhasnagar until he was in Std IV.
Until then, he could only tell his name, his father’s name and that he came from ‘Andhra’. His case paper, a thin file of not more than half a dozen pages, had two details? His name and possibility that he is a native of Andhra.
In 2013, Satyadev was shifted to Government Children Home for Boys (Senior) in Ulhasnagar.
In 2014, counsellor Santosh Khopade came across his file and quizzed the boy again. “I realised he wasn’t clear when he said Andhra. So I searched names of all cities and states that start with ‘A’ and read out to him. He recognised a town named Adra in West Bengal,” said Khopade. The sister office of CWC in West Bengal was immediately contacted to trace the boy’s address but there was no response.
Khopade then started searching through satellite images of the town and asked Satyadev about different landmarks. Satyadev remembered studying in class I in a school near a railway track with a huge ground and a water tank on its opposite side. When the counselor punched in keywords looking for a school in Adra near railway station, he chanced upon a South Eastern Railways Boys School. On Google Maps, it was shown to be adjacent to a railway line and there was an overhead water tank on the road opposite.
A letter was immediately sent to the school. When no response came, calls were made. “We could connect with no one from either the school or CWC. I was not even sure if I was on the right track in locating his family,” Khopade said.
Two months ago, the breakthrough came.
Khopade managed to get contact of Adra’s sub-divisional police officer Abhijit Banerjee. “They sent us the boy’s pictures and case papers on WhatsApp. We only knew that the boy might be from that school so I sent a team to go through its records of 2009,” said Banerjee.
Sure enough, a boy named Satyadev had stopped coming to school sometime in November 2009. Records showed father’s name as Dhananjay Bahadur with a vague address scribbled.
A police team then went out looking for Bahadur in Adra’s Railway Colony. “The police asked a lot of neighbours in my area. When they came, they showed me my son’s photo. I could recognise him anytime,” Bahadur, a bus driver, said.
Originally from Nepal, he settled in West Bengal for work with his father. According to him, his son ran away in 2009 after he was scolded for a prank he played. While Bahadur claims he filed a missing report, the Adra police has no such records. Bahadur searched for his son in nearby towns, later in Kolkata and Patna for three months before finally giving up hope.
Soon, his wife also separated. “I had to earn money, could not spend all day looking for him,” he said. Bahadur remarried but decided to not have another child. “I knew my son was alive, I was worried in what condition he lived.”
Bahadur’s picture was then sent on WhatsApp by Adra police to CWC’s office in Ulhasnagar. When Satyadev recognised him, a series of formalities were put in motion. His father submitted his identification proof and presented himself to CWC to claim his son’s custody.
“This has never happened in Adra before. The case was never investigated as it was not registered. The boy would have continued his life as an orphan had the connection with school and water tank not clicked,” Banerjee said.
Satyadev will now join school from next year in Adra. According to Khopade, he has undergone several counselling sessions to get adjusted to his new life again. “It is difficult for him to accept he is no more an orphan,” Khopade added.