Atulya Chakravarty remembers every little detail about the night of September 18,2012,a Tuesday. They had retired to bed around 10.30 pm. Around 3.35 am,Chakravarty got up to go to the toilet and,as was his usual routine,did a quick round of his ground-floor house.
He first sensed something wrong when he found the courtyard light out. He fetched a torch and went to inspect the gate leading to the big verandah,which they bolted from inside,and saw it open. By that time,his wife Maitri too was up. A quick check showed nothing had been stolen. To reassure herself,Maitri decided to look in on their daughter Navaruna.
When he heard her screaming,Atulya rushed to the room. The bed had been made up to look like somebody was sleeping there,but there was no Navaruna.
Its been a year but the Chakra-vartys have not seen Navaruna. Nor do they have any leads on how a 12-year-old,much-loved daughter and sister,and a bright student at one of the citys better schools,went missing in the middle of the night,as they slept 30 ft away.
There have been probes,charges of police mishandling,petitions to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar,the Prime Minister and mentions in the Supreme Court. Finally,last fortnight,the mystery of the missing Muzaffarpur girl was handed over to the CBI.
Atulya says that while the room wasnt Navarunas,she had been demanding one for herself and had taken to sleeping there occasionally. September had been a happy month for Navaruna. In the first-term exams concluded just days before,the Class VII student of St Xaviers School had scored over 90 per cent marks.
Sobbing,Maitri adds that that night,Navaruna had insisted on sleeping alone. She had applied mehndi on her hand and wanted to sleep separately to ensure the pattern didnt get smudged.
Navaruna loved mehndi,says Navarupa,19,showing the sketchbook where the younger sister had drawn patterns. She also liked drawing human faces. Navarupa often got her fairy tale books and animation movies. The last time Navarupa saw her sister was in May 2012,before she moved to Delhi to do a chartered accountancy course.
The town has been home to Atulya’s family,originally from West Bengals 24 Parganas,for six generations. The house is located on a 13,200 sq ft plot,which is the common property of Atulya,62,his elder brother Nirmalya,and three cousins,who live elsewhere.
The brothersboth of whom retired as medical representativeswere in the process of looking for buyers for their property when Navaruna went missing. Muzaffarpur was home to a lot of Bengalis till 1980s,Atulya says,but things have changed. It was a town of Muslims,Bengalis and Kayasthas. Now,only 400-odd Bengali families live here. Most of them have had to leave,selling their land at throwaway prices to the mafia, Atulya says.
With their land located in the heart of the district town,near the market and adjacent to a hotel,Atulya had managed a good deal. Though the circle rate of the property was Rs 1.32 crore,the family had signed a deal for Rs 3 crore. Atulya had got Rs 21 lakh as advance.
Atulya claims that the local land mafia was unhappy. The mafia targeted his daughter to make him sell the land to it instead,he believes,adding that top police officers and local politicians were part of the scam.
Atulya also says that Navaruna had told Navarupa about someone trailing her as she went to tuitions or school. The family thought little about it,he rues.
Maitri has another regret. The corner room where Navaruna slept was closest to the hotel,and employees often washed utensils next to the window. I would often complain and tell them my daughter slept in the room. I never thought I was giving away information. The night of Navarunas disappearance,the iron bars on the window were found pulled apart.
While the FIR was filed on September 19,2012,it would be more than a month later,and after a threat by the parents to immolate themselves,that police showed some semblance of initiating a probe.
A neighbour,Ramesh Kumar alias Bablu who,Atulya says,had shown interest in the property,was arrested on October 20 along with an old tenant,Sudip Chakravarty,and one Shyam Patel. Police chargesheeted them for plotting Navarunas kidnapping. Bablu and Sudip are out on bail. The day of the arrests,the Chakravartys wrote to the Prime Minister,seeking help.
On October 22,the SSP visited the house for the first time. Trainee sub-inspector Amit Kumar was the investigating officer. We kept Navarunas room closed for 33 days. Neither any FSL team nor a sniffer dog was sent, says Atulya,sitting on Navarunas bed. Her clothes still hang in the room.
A forensic team from Patna visited the house on November 3,45 days after the kidnapping. The family by then had got the window rods straightened.
The police never recorded the statement of any family members,the Chakravartys allege.
Meanwhile,the local press started talking of a love affair,saying Navaruna had eloped. The school administration questioned this bid to besmirch a little girl. Nothing came of the love theory.
Atulya sees a conspiracy in police monitoring his calls,questioning his brother-in-law about his connections,and even going up to Delhi and allegedly bullying Delhi University student Abhishek Ranjan,who was trying to help. Ranjan had read about Navaruna on a Facebook page.
Police next looked at internal disputes in the family,but found nothing to back this either.
On October 24,Atulya claims,he called up state DGP Abhayanand,threatening to commit suicide. He took many sleeping pills but survived. The DGP assured him that police were doing its duty.
On October 28,Navarupa wrote a letter to the PMO. Two days later,the family also moved the National Human Rights Commission,which summoned the Bihar DGP.
In the third week of November,the case took another turn. The Chakravartys woke up to see a drain in their lane being cleaned. On November 25,a skeleton,packed in plastic,was found under a cement slab in front of their house. There was pressure on the Chakravartys to accept the skeleton as Navarunas. But Atulya refused to give a sample for DNA testing. What is the guarantee police will not fudge the DNA report? he argued.
A forensic report judged the skeleton to be that of a 13-15-year-old girl,who died between October 10 and 20. I saw a big pelvic bone and mud-filled skull. I am a pharmacist. Can one explain how a body can decompose to such an extent after just 15 days of death? It was a plant, says Atulya.
He also claims that he was told by someone at the SKMCH Muzaffarpur hospitalthat first examined the skeletonthat it was at least nine months old and belonged to an adult. I am not in a position to confirm or deny this, says SKMCH Medical Superintendent Dr G K Thakur.
By then,the family had also written to President Pranab Mukherjee,seeking his internvention.
On January 15,the CID took over the case. CID Inspector General of Police (Weaker Sections) Aravind Pandey refused to talk: From land mafia to other possible angles,we looked into all aspects. Now that the CBI is to take over,it is not proper to say anything.
The Supreme Court took up the case on January 7,2013,following a plea by Abhishek Ranjan and three others on Bihars deteriorating law and order in the context of the Navaruna case. The court asked the state government to submit a report within six weeks. The latter did so in March. The next hearing is on October 18.
Says Ranjan: We only want the Supreme Court to hear the case in detail. The case coming to the court itself has put a lot of pressure on the Bihar government.
On June 14,the Union Home Ministry wrote to the Bihar government to expedite matters.
Early last month,Maitri met Nitish at his Janta Durbar and pleaded that the case be handed over to the CBI. Days later,the agency took over the investigation. Home Secretary Amir Subhani said police had done what it could.
Maitri and Atulya,who are banking on the Supreme Court,spend their days waiting. Recently,when they heard a girl resembling Navaruna was seen at a village nearby,an ailing Atulya sent his elder one there with an armed guard,given to him by police. The tip-off turned out to be false. The family was on tenterhooks till Navarupa returned home.