The UP police thought it was a simple open-and-shut case. For 7 years, they were under the impression that a 14-year-old girl, who went missing from her home in Aligarh, was killed and dumped over 90 km away in Agra by her neighbour.
The girl’s family mourned for her and the accused, who was an 18-year-old at the time, was slapped with charges of kidnapping, murder and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
Little did the family and police know that the girl was now a married woman, a mother of two children, working mustard fields, attending weddings and religious functions at her new home in Hathras.
A chance meeting with a katha vachak (storyteller) blew her cover and the police investigation.
The UP police have now acknowledged that the girl who went missing was alive and a DNA test report is awaited to take action in the case. For now, she is being kept at a Nari Niketan.
Circle Officer Umesh Sharma told The Indian Express, “This is the same girl who went missing in 2015. She was living with her mother-in-law, husband and two children in Hathras. The father of the victim took the name of the accused as the prime suspect, but may have made a mistake as the body that he identified had a half-crushed face. The woman told us that she was angry and fled home. The identity of the Agra woman will be reinvestigated by the local police.”
At a local hospital in Aligarh, the woman’s father waited for his daughter’s DNA test. “After 7 years, I found my daughter. All these years, I thought she was dead. We wept for so many years and I wept more when I saw her for the first time when she resurfaced. I asked her, Beta, theek ho? Wapas aa jao (Daughter, are you okay? Come back). She told me she wants to stay with her family, not with us,” the father said.
The girl, who was in Class X, went missing from a local fair on February 17, 2015, two days before she was to take a school test. Her parents searched the entire neighbourhood, and so did the family members of the accused who took part in the search. A few days later, a body was found in Agra, and the search ended.
“The local police showed me the body. The girl’s face was crushed but her clothes looked similar to the one my daughter was wearing, so I thought it was her,” the father said.
Asked why he accused the 18-year-old neighbour, he said, “Everyone at the fair told me to take his name. They swore they saw him with my daughter. Later, after he was arrested, newspapers carried a story saying he had confessed to the crime. I thought the case was solved.”
The mother of the accused said, “They kept telling me my son was a killer. Now, the truth comes out.”
A widow who lost her husband to cancer in 2002, the mother of the accused had to hold a job while rearing cattle and tending to her fields to support her family. Her grief took her to Pandit Uday Krishna Shastri, now her spiritual guru. “I used to talk about my case and had also shared some photos of the girl with him. I never knew that he would be the one to crack this case,” she said.
Shastri introduces himself as a Vrindavan-based storyteller. “The mother of the accused was my disciple. She has such a sad story to tell and lost so much in life. She had also shared photographs of the girl with me and the image stayed in my mind,” he said.
Around a week ago, Shastri came across a woman, serving him food at a religious gathering in Hathras. “I saw some resemblance but did not think much of it. Then I asked around about her background and some people told me that she was from Aligarh and had run away. I could not believe I was looking at the same person. So I had to be sure,” he said.
Using his mobile phone, Shastri secretly took photographs of the woman and showed them to the mother of the accused. “It was her. I could not believe it,” the mother said.
But Shastri decided to verify the details before approaching the police. “I spoke to some officials who helped me source this woman’s documents. We got her Aadhaar card, school documents, looked for any bank-related documents and found out that she was living under a different name. There were two sets of documents with her original and made-up name. That’s when we approached the police,” he said.
The mother of the accused did not meet her son in 7 years. He got bail in this case but did not meet her, choosing to work at a Vrindavan hotel before being arrested for violating bail conditions. “I long to see my son. I want him to get married and have a normal life.”
But that may not happen soon. The police have claimed that he is accused in two murder cases, a case of dacoity, and attempting to free an accused from police custody.
“The first murder case was registered in 2011. The second murder case was the one involving the missing girl. There are around 10 criminal cases against him in Agra, Firozabad and Mathura,” CO Sharma said.
At the woman’s home in Hathras, her mother-in-law is just coming to terms with the dual life. She looks after her two grandchildren, in the absence of their mother. “The police have come and did what they wanted to do. I have nothing to say,” she said.