Late Wednesday evening, Saawri Devi (60) wiped her tears and packed her belongings in an old sari. An optimistic Saawri believed it was time to head home to Balram district in UP, with a pit-stop at the women’s shelter nearby. UP Police were waiting outside the room where Saawri had spent 24 hours — at the computerised lost and found camp in Kumbh’s Sector 4.
Minutes later, the police officers left without her. “I couldn’t go. Every time I tried to leave, she would cry,” said Saawri, pointing at Prem Devi, also in her 60s, from a village in Bihar’s Samastipur district. “She got separated from her family today. I got separated from mine yesterday,” explained Saawri.
From January 10-16, across 15 computerised lost and found camps here, including three outside Kumbh, around 800 people have been registered as “lost”. “At least 90 per cent have been reunited with their families. On the day of Shahi Snaan, we received maximum cases, with Sector 4 centre alone getting 412 cases,” said Mani Jha (40), project head of the computerised lost and found camps.
A team of 100, including announcers, support staff, data entry operators and team leaders, are manning the 15 camps 24×7. “There are dashboards at every centre with photos of lost persons with their details. As soon as one registers a person as lost with us, we relay the information to other centres. There are 3,500 loudspeakers across Kumbh, and they are most effective,” said Jha, who works with Pune-based tech firm Kash IT Solutions Limited, which set up the dashboards.
Through the night, the loudspeakers announce names of those lost, sometimes even in Bengali and Odia. Jha said that on the day of the Shahi Snaan, the sector 4 camp received complaint of only one lost child. “Parents and children are smarter now. They remember numbers, and children operate phones better than their parents. Mostly we receive women above the age of 50, and some men too,” said Jha.
If within 24 hours, the lost individual is not reunited with the family, he/she is handed over to UP Police, which in turn takes them to the Naari Niketan or a men’s shelter, from where efforts are made to reunite them with their families.
“I don’t remember any phone numbers. My brother-in-law went to take a holy dip, and then I never saw him. I gave him Rs 1,000, which is what I earn every month by cooking at a school,” said an agitated Saawri.
In a corner, Prem wept quietly as she recounted how she had given her sattu, 1 kg sugar, three saris, a lota, apart from money, to her neighbour, from whom she got separated. But the stay at the camp had revived an old wound. “My son got lost 30 years ago. We never found him. Imagine how hard it would be to never be found,” said Prem.