PRAVINA RAWTE and Smita Page had been inseparable since they were toddlers. Born eight days apart in a tribal hamlet in Aarey Milk Colony, the girls grew up to dress almost identically and buy the same smartphones. Since Tuesday evening, when the 17-year-olds jumped into a well in a suspected suicide pact, their families and friends have been left to wonder what went wrong.
Their bodies were fished out from the a deep well in Aarey Colony’s Unit 6 late Tuesday. “The fire brigade first put in a 20-foot-long bamboo pole but it still didn’t touch the bodies,” said Pravina’s father, Ganpat Rawte (40). By the time rescuers reached the water, it was too late.
Now, the police are sifting through the cellphones of the girls and combing through CCTV camera footage to look for clues on why they leaped to their deaths.
Rawte, a daily wage labourer, and Smita’s father Kisan Page (42), an electrician, are distant cousins and live on either side of a path that weaves around their village Khambacha Pada in Unit 25. Both men have three children each — two girls and a boy — of roughly the same age. The youngest girls became fast friends, living practically in each others homes, dancing on Ganesh Chaturhti and Navratri and spending their mornings filling water at the communal tap.
“Both owned the same model of phones. They were like twins,” said Rawte sitting under a tamarind tree where the girls spent many happy hours chasing each other.
They, however, chose different careers. Pravina dropped out of school after Class X. “She was never interested in studies. She had told me when she was in Class VII that she didn’t want to go to college,” Rawte recalled. Instead, she was learning to sew on a machine that her father had bought. Smita, on the other hand, was a Class XII commerce student at the college in Goregaon West.
The accounts of both families of the fateful day begin with the girls being left alone at home. Rawte and his wife, who works as a domestic help, left home at 8 am, followed by their daughter Pratibaha (21) and son Nishant (18) heading to college. Smita’s parents left to take their harvest of rice to a mill in Vasai with her older brother Sagar (20). Smita, who was nursing a cold, was told to remain at home and take the day off from college and tuitions.
That left both girls to finish house work by 2.30 pm and leave home together. “A few children playing on a swing asked the girls where they were headed. They replied that they were going to play,” said Page.
Over the next few hours, the girls clicked selfies and posted them as status messages on their WhatsApp accounts. These pictures, which the police said were taken on the way to the well, would only later become clear as a bread-crumb trail.
The final picture, said their families, was taken outside the well, showing its mouth and the surrounding area clearly. “They had captioned the picture with the word ‘bye’. Lots of their friends saw the picture but thought that it was a joke. Only one of them took it seriously enough to inform my son,” said Rawte.
By the time Nishant reached the well, he only found both girls’ slippers and cellphones lying on the ground. The fathers said that they noticed nothing amiss at home. “On Sunday night, we were watching TV when there was an ad by Naaptol offering a discount of dresses. My daughters loved the dresses and made me place an order for five of them,” said Rawte.
Page said that if there was a problem with any of Smita’s friends, he did not know about it. “I don’t know what my children do on their phones. I don’t look at their calls or messages,” he added.
“I am ready to accept that one of the girls might have been troubled by something. But what sort of friendship is this where one person says jump into a well with me and the other actually jumps? Even in their last moments, they were dressed in identical tops and black pants,” he said.
Vijayalaxmi Hiremath, senior Inspector of Aarey police station, said that the motive behind the suicides is unclear. “I spoke to the fathers on Wednesday and everything seemed to be okay at their homes,” she said. She added that Smita had a boyfriend, who was being questioned.