A daily joint operation is always underway at the Gateway of India where licensed photographers around the landmark are either bringing crying children to the Colaba police chowky or leading to their family members. “Everyone is seen taking photos either on their phones or by the professionals in the area. However, this is the only reason why children get separated from their parents or their groups,” said S Chavan, an assistant police inspector, who is in charge of the Gateway police chowky.
The Police claim that the frequency of children being separated has increased drastically since the 2008 terror attacks at the Taj hotel .
“The visitors are mostly from out of the city. These are iconic, historic and picturesque locations. One picture is never enough and when couples get carried away, children do get separated. That is the only trend here,” said another officer attached with the Gateway chowky.
Anish Ganje, 28, a photgrapher stationed in the area, said in his 16 years at the Gateway, the speakers of the public address system of the chowky are only used for one purpose – to declare that a missing child is with them.
“There are only two speakers : one at the entrance and another close to the Gateway structure. Every time it is in use, we know it is for this reason. We are alerted and immediately on the lookout for anyone distressed,” Ganje – who claims he can’t estimate how many families he reunited – said.
The police said that a lot of the times, while they are making an announcement, the parents are in a scramble frantically looking for their children and not listening to the announcements. It is then that the role of the 200 odd photographers at Gateway premises becomes critical.
Over the weekend, over a lakh of visitors are estimated and at least three children – between the age groups of two to seven years – get separated, the police said.
On Sunday, the police made announcements of a three-year-old girl in a red frock who went missing.
“If the child is young, we announce the colour of their clothes and their approximate age. If fortunate, we even get their names. However, we always hope that the stressed parents know Hindi that is the language we make the announcements in since most of the visitors are not from Mumbai,” said a police officer.
“After we make the announcement, we make the child stand on a chair near the window. We point at people hurriedly approaching the chowky and ask the child if they are his/her relatives,” said an officer.
“The other reliable method to check the authenticity of the relative who has come to pick up the child is when they embrace. It is a natural thing to do, if that does not happen, we are suspicious,” added the officer.
On being asked asked how all the announcements are made in such a calm manner, an officer responded saying, “We know the family will be reunited. There is no need to panic. We have not received any training to keep our composure, it is only by experience that we are able to do so.”