Three years and four months after she went missing from Shirdi, the woman whose disappearance had led to the Bombay High Court asking Maharashtra’s top police officer to examine several disappearances from the temple town from the human-trafficking angle, has been found.
Deepti Soni (38), wife of Manoj Soni (42), a driver from Indore who had moved the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court with a habeas corpus petition to trace his wife, returned to her sister’s house in Indore on Thursday evening, Soni’s lawyer Sushant Dixit said. Soni’s petition was urgently mentioned before a bench of Justice Ravindra V Ghuge and Justice B U Debadwar on Friday afternoon to inform the court that Deepti had been found.
The court was told that Deepti, who went missing on August 10, 2017 after visiting the Saibaba temple in Shirdi with her family, had ‘returned’ to her sister’s house in Indore on Thursday. The court noted that Manoj’s father-in-law informed him over the phone on Thursday that Deepti had returned to her sister’s house, that she had been living in Indore for the last three years and that Manoj’s father-in-law had found her “to be of, prima facie, an unstable mind”.
While Deepti has told her family that she had been living with a old woman in Indore, she has not been able to say how she got back from Shirdi to Indore, Manoj said.
On the day she went missing in 2017, Deepti, who worked as a nursing assistant in Indore before her disappearance, had gone to the shops near the Saibaba temple while Manoj waited with their two children who were enjoying rides at a fair near the temple.
In October, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court asked Director General of Police (DGP) Subodh Jaiswal to examine the matter from a human-trafficking or an organ trafficking angle. According to the data earlier placed before the court by the Shirdi police, 279 persons were reported missing from Shirdi between 2017 and October 27, 2020 of whom 67, including Deepti, remained untraced.
Deepti’s return has, however, been met with a disagreement between Manoj and the Shirdi police. Additional public prosecutor H K Patil told the court that Manoj’s claim of how Deepti returned was ‘disputable’ as it was, in fact, the Shirdi police that was investigating the case in Indore, who found her.
Patil said, “The Shirdi police took a lot of efforts to find her (Deepti) and she will be to Aurangabad from Indore as per the court’s order. The DGP’s office had called for data from all the SPs in Maharashtra and at least so far there is nothing to suggest that there is a human-trafficking or an organ trafficking racket in the state.”
The High Court on Friday ordered that Deepti undergo a preliminary medical examination at Government Hospital and Training Institute at Aurangabad, be produced before a chief judicial magistrate on Saturday and be kept at a women’s reformation centre in Aurangabad until the court hears the case on December 21.
Dixit, however, said that the police should not be in a hurry to wind up their probe. “She has not been able to say where she was for three years. Couldn’t she be under some threat or fear? Is it not possible that she may have been released to protect a bigger racket? This still needs to be investigated,” said Dixit.