Paras School… Bastipada… Star Chowk… and a sister named Soni – patchy clues as the Mumbai Police attempt to trace the family of Haswan Nishad, who said he was 16, and whose body has been lying in the mortuary of Sion Hospital in Mumbai for over a month now.
On August 6, Haswan, who is believed to have taken a train from Delhi to Mumbai – “to see the city” — was brought to a children’s home after he was found loitering in a south Mumbai locality. Ten days later, on the evening of August 16, he was beaten to death, allegedly by his fellow inmates. Six of the inmates in the juvenile home were taken into custody on the charge of murder.
Police now have an unfinished task on their hands: tracing the boy’s family in Delhi. On September 16, a Mumbai Police team left for New Delhi to look for Haswan’s sister ‘Soni’.
Mumbai Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone V) Pranaya Ashok said, “So far, we have arrested two of the accused as they turned out to be over 18 years old. Besides, we are trying hard to identify and locate the boy’s family members. He appeared to be suffering from some mental illness due to which he could not give us the exact details about his family. And we have checked cases and missing-persons records but we could not find anything about him.”
At 10 am on August 6, a physical trainer had found Haswan – he looked new, somewhat lost.
“When the boy gave no clear answers, the trainer took him to the police chowki nearby,” said a police officer.
On the suggestion of the chowki constables, the trainer brought the boy to the police station, where the personnel counselled him for over four hours, gave him food and tried to get him to talk about himself and his family.
“He looked scared. We would ask him multiple questions and after a lot of prodding, he would reply to one. We thought our police uniforms were making him uncomfortable, so we tried our best to put him at ease,” said an officer.
The little they could glean from Haswan was this: that he is from “Bastipada” near “Star Chowk in Delhi”, that his parents are no more and he lived with his sister Soni, and that he left his backpack in a bin at the Delhi station before boarding the train.
The police contacted some of their counterparts in the Delhi Police who advised them to make a video of the boy and send it to them.
“We contacted an assistant commissioner of police (ACP) in Delhi whom we know, who told us that there is no such area or place in Delhi as Bastipada or Star Chowk. We sent the boy’s video to the ACP, who forwarded it to multiple police groups on WhatsApp. But we have got no further clues,” said the officer.
In the video, Haswan, the hint of a smile and a quizzical look on his face, can be heard saying that he came to Mumbai two to three days ago on a train – “ghoomne (to see the city)”.
Around 4 pm that day, police took Haswan to the children’s home, where he was registered as a new inmate, following which, as per quarantine norms set in place since the start of the pandemic, he was sent to the centre’s ‘isolation room’.
Here, in the isolation room, which he shared with 23 other new inmates and where he would have spent the next 14 days, Haswan was mostly quiet, said an official appointed at the home.
“He hardly spoke. Whenever we asked something, he would either not respond or mumble incoherently,” said the official, adding, “He kept on saying Paras School and little else. We are not even sure whether he or his sister studied there, or if he stayed somewhere close to this school. We tried looking for the school online, but there were several schools by that name.”
The authorities said they got the boy to attend a few consultation sessions with an NGO, but he did not utter a word.
The officials say Haswan was scheduled to undergo an age verification test on August 17.
“We thought he looked older, so we presented him before the Child Welfare Committee and sought permission for an age verification test. We had planned to line up an IQ test that would have helped us ascertain his mental state. But the unfortunate incident took place a day before the tests were to happen,” said an official.
According to officials at the centre, on the evening of August 16, Haswan defecated inside the isolation room.
CCTV images from the room show the boy playing with what appears to be the faeces, following which some of the inmates tie handkerchiefs around their noses to block the overpowering smell. Some of them get aggressive and start manhandling him.
Officials of the children’s home rushed the injured boy to Sion Hospital, where he was declared brought dead.
The police initially registered a case of accidental death, but later, based on images from the CCTV footage, took six inmates into custody under charges of murder. They were later transferred to a remand home.
Following an inquiry launched by the children’s home, a guard appointed at the isolation room was held responsible and a case of negligence under the Juvenile Justice Act was registered against him.
Sources in the children’s home said 15 security guards, who work across three shifts, are appointed to take care of over 150 inmates. Five other probationary officers are tasked with inspecting the daily routine of the children.
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Since Haswan’s death on August 16, his body has been lying at the mortuary of Sion Hospital, with police trying to locate his family members.
“We have sent a team to Delhi. They will seek help from the local police and try to trace his family members by showing his photo to people on the road,” said an investigating officer.
Officers in the Delhi Police, however, said they were yet to get any official intimation on the case from their counterparts in Mumbai.
Meanwhile, the police officer who took the boy to the children’s home, says, “It’s very unfortunate. Ever since I got to know of Haswan’s death, I have regretted every minute… I shouldn’t have sent him to the children home.