The return of 38-year-old Deepti Soni, who was reported missing from Shirdi, has been as shrouded in mystery as her disappearance in August, 2017.
On Monday, even as the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court sent her home to Indore with her husband Manoj Soni, it felt that the police should question Deepti, as her answers could perhaps provide leads to other disappearances reported from the temple town in Ahmednagar.
Deepti, who underwent a medical examination, was found both mentally and physically fit by six doctors from Aurangabad. But ever since she returned to her family a week ago, she has been saying that she remembers nothing of the last three years.
Lawyer Sushant Dixit, who represented Manoj Soni in court, said, “She has been giving evasive answers to all our questions. She says she doesn’t remember anything and if you ask her anything else, she says she has a headache or was tired from all the traveling from Indore to Aurangabad. She isn’t saying anything about where she was for three years.”
While it may have been only a week since she returned to her sister’s house in Indore, three years after her family last saw her outside the Saibaba temple in Shirdi, Deepti may have to break her silence soon.
The HC had said in its order, “We make it clear that the police of this state will have to go to the root of the matter with regard to the persons going missing from a pilgrimage town like Shirdi, as we seriously apprehend human trafficking or an organ trafficking racket. In this investigation process, we permit the police to interrogate Smt. Deepti w/o Manojkumar Soni by resorting to all legally permissible methods of interrogation, including NARCO Analysis Test, since she is now found/traced out, and she could be an important link to unravel any racket.”
The court, however, noted that medical examination showed that none of Deepti’s organs were missing, there was no sign of a surgery and physical torture or sexual assault. She also showed no signs of “demonstrable clinical psychopathology of a nature impairing her reasoning and judgment at the time of assessment”, it noted. The court, however, said “a larger issue needs to be addressed”.
“Considering that 115 males and more than 100 women had gone missing since 2017 till 27.10.2020, out of whom, about 100 males and about 100 females were traced and the 11 persons traced in the month of December 2020. Yet, about approximately 60 persons (male and female together) are to be traced…,” Justice Ravindra V Ghuge and Justice B U Debadwar observed while converting Manoj Soni’s habeas corpus petition into a suo motu criminal PIL.
The court appreciated the efforts of the Maharashtra director general of police (DGP) after whose intervention, 11 missing people were traced this month.
Even after Deepti had been found, the judges wrote in their order, “…we request the Director General of Police, Maharashtra state, to continue with his endeavour and to issue necessary instructions to the police force/units formed for tracing out the missing people.”
Noting that in all, 11 cases of missing persons had been solved after the intervention of DGP Subodh Jaiswal, the court said this was an “admirable achievement”. Among those traced this month, including Deepti, were five more missing women. They included an 18 year old, who was reported missing in 2014.
The court said that the petition, now a suo motu criminal PIL, will be heard on every fourth Monday of the month when the police will appraise the court of the progress made in tracing those still missing.
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