On June 26, the family and relatives of the seven-year-old rape and assault victim in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, had looked at all possible places she could have gone after school – and even alerted relatives in nearby villages and towns to look for a schoolgirl in uniform – before they approached the police around 8.30 pm to file a missing person’s complaint. The family alleged that the girl’s school did not want to bring police in the picture.
While the two main accused were arrested the following day, and reportedly confessed to the crime, the police said the family informed them late, which may have affected the search for the girl.
Superintendent of Police (City) Rakesh Shukla, who is leading the special investigation team (SIT) in the case, said police were informed at least an hour-and-a-half late. He said the school could not provide CCTV footage so the police sought footage from shops and houses in three lanes leading to the school.
Kotwali Police Station in-charge J S Yadav also accused the family of reaching the police late. He claimed the police swung into action immediately, beginning by searching the school’s washrooms and storerooms to see whether she had fallen asleep. The police checked deras of the Banchhada community, which has traditionally practised prostitution, by alerting police stations and shared her picture with gram raksha samitis (village committees).
Yadav said the police had even passed by the spot, off Laxman Darwaja Road in Mandsaur, where the victim was eventually found around noon on Thursday – raped, her throat slit, and left to die.
Doctors said her condition is fast improving — she has started eating semi-solid food and walked a few steps on Monday. Dr V S Pal, superintendent of Indore’s M Y Hospital, where she is recuperating, told the media that she could soon be moved out of ICU.
Her family said they did not approach the police because they did not imagine anything untoward initially. Her grandmother, who was late in fetching her from school on June 26, said, “In case I got late she used to wait for me on the bench. When she was not there (that day), I thought someone else — probably her father or a cousin — had taken her home.”
But as they failed to trace her, soon nearly 25 or 30 members of the extended family were involved in the search, a cousin said.
“We even checked the last train, and were in touch with acquaintances in Sitamau, Neemuch and Pratapgarh (in neighbouring Rajasthan) through the night… nothing helped,” the victim’s uncle said. He said they could have traced her “much before if the school’s CCTV was working”.
The footage that led to Irfan’s arrest on June 27 was sourced only after 2.30 pm, more than two hours after a boy had found the victim walking, dazed. This boy brought her to the road when a man passing by noticed them, and two policemen who were nearby reached them, officers said.
The police learned about the possible suspect through informers. Irfan was taken into custody late that night. Shukla said Irfan was wearing the same shoes as seen on the CCTV footage.
Although the police had also taken Asif, 24, into custody early on June 27, the arrest was made official only on Saturday. The SIT chief said both accused have confessed to the crime.