Since Saturday, this house in a slum in Mumbai has seen a constant flow of visitors, all wanting to meet Aditya Rafukiya (16), who is back home after being reported missing nearly three years ago. Aditya was found in Gujarat last week, after a social worker read The Indian Express online report on how his father, Bansi Rafukiya, a mechanic, had undertaken a tireless search for him across India.
In January this year, The Indian Express reported that Rafukiya had launched a fight against child labour, helping children on the streets to locate their parents — a mission he adopted after his son went missing from their home in Walkeshwar. Aditya, then a Class VI student aged 13, ran away from home in 2015, after being scolded by his parents for not studying. On December 5, 2015, his father filed a missing person’s report at the Malabar Hill police station before undertaking a lone search for his son.
Aditya was last spotted on CCTV cameras at Mumbai Central station’s platform 4, wearing a red shirt and carrying his school bag. With no further leads, his father travelled to various destinations that the trains from Mumbai Central went to that day. “The Golden Temple Mail and Saurashtra Express had left the station. I went to all the stations those trains halted at to paste his posters,” says Rafukiya.
Eventually, fearing that his son may have been trapped as a child labourer, Rafukiya became a social worker, aiding the police and complaining to Childline about every child labour case he came across.
Then in January this year, a video clip with a lookalike of a senior politician cooking food under a tent went viral. When Rafukiya watched the video, he noticed Aditya in the background. He immediately restarted his search. “We reached out to police and politicians to trace the source of the video which went viral on WhatsApp. There were no leads. We didn’t even know which state the video was shot in,” says his wife, Prabha. “We spent each day with the guilt of not being able to locate our son.”
Till last week, when a call from Gujarat changed the mood in the Rafukiya household.
K S Ishrani, a social defence officer at a children’s shelter in Jamnagar, called up Rafukiya and told him that his son had been living there for the last two years. “I didn’t believe him at first, I asked them to send a photograph. I had already travelled to many cities on tip-offs that my son may be there,” says Rafukiya. Ishrani sent him a photograph, and the family left for Jamnagar the same day. They returned with Aditya on Saturday.
Back home, with plans to continue his education, Aditya narrates his story. “I had stolen Rs 1,100 from home before running away. I was scared, so I never returned,” he says. He says he first went to Ahmedabad, then Hyderabad, doing odd jobs to sustain himself. In 2016, he reached Jamnagar and found work in hotels and restaurants. He adopted a new name, Vijay, to hide his identity. Eventually, he was taken to a shelter home in Jamnagar. “A police officer took me there when he saw me reading a book. He advised me to get educated,” he recalls.
When the shelter home authorities attempted to make an Aadhaar card for him, his biometrics showed he was already enrolled in Mumbai. The staff at the shelter went through records of missing children in Mumbai, but couldn’t trace his family. “He is a talented boy, but whenever we broached the subject of his family, he would get scared. We were afraid that if we pushed too hard, he may run away from here,” Ishrani told The Indian Express.
Finally, last month, Aditya revealed his real name to a teacher. Another social worker searched online for reports of a missing boy named Aditya from Mumbai. He chanced upon a report in The Indian Express, which had Aditya’s photograph and details of how his father was searching for him. “We called up his parents and asked them to come with his Aadhaar card,” said Ishrani.
When the social worker showed Aditya the report, he got emotional. “I cried all night. I thought they’d have forgotten me,” he says. During his time at the children’s shelter, Aditya won several sports competitions. Now in Class VIII, he plans to return to school immediately.
“We thought he may have turned into a rogue. But the shelter home changed him completely. He has become more responsible. Our family is complete with him,” says his mother.