Teenagers are disposed to rebel, and occasionally break away from home. But when half a dozen of them from a neighbourhood get the whim to fly the coop at the same time, it does raise a few eyebrows. The Vakola police had their hands full after six girls — between the ages of 12 and 17 — decamped from their homes at Shiv Shakti Nagar in Kalina. Kanta Sawant (12), her sister Divya Dayanand Sawant (14), Sampada Patekar (14), Poornima Surve (15), Pragya Shinde (15) and Pooja Kehshav Lokhande (17) had gone missing on Thursday.
Worried: Parents of the six decamped girls on their way to the Vakola police station.
Apart from being from the same neighbourhood, all the girls, except Pooja, were studying in the same school in sixth and seventh standard. Cops eventually managed to find them at Tokwadi village in Kalyan on Sunday night, where they had confined themselves to a hutment arranged by one Sameer Bhalerao (19), son of a police constable, who had recently befriended Pooja. However, the drama didn’t end. Despite meeting with their families, the girls refused to go back to them. Cops finally had to rope in counsellors who managed to sway the teens after a two-hour session.
The Shiv Shakti Nagar in Kalina, where the girls stay. Pics/ Vijay Bate
During interrogation the teens revealed they were influenced by a Marathi movie, Bindast, wherein two girls flee from their house for regalement. Cops said the six runaways could relate to one of the underprivileged girls in the film and thought of following in her footsteps. On the day of the incident, some of the girls left on the pretext of going to school, while the remaining left from home informing parents that they were going to tuition classes.
Cops found a handwritten note from the house of one of the girls in which she had said that they were going away as they want to make it big in their careers. They had requested their parents not to search for them, threatening to kill themselves otherwise. Soon after leaving their houses, the teenagers met at a designated spot and left for Karjat from Kurla station. The group then boarded a bus for Murbad from where they walked till Tokwadi village where Sameer had made arrangements for their accommodation. Since their stay, the girls were eating at a dhaba bang opposite their residence. They had purposed to get admission in a school at the village.
“All the girls in the group were very close to each other. They went to school and had their lunch and dinners together on several occasions. Pooja who was the eldest, used to lead the group wherever they went,” said Dayanand Sawant.
Friend in need?
Preliminary investigations revealed that Pooja and Sameer were friends and the latter thus became the prime suspect in the case. When cops began conversing with him over the phone, he bluntly denied knowing the girls’ whereabouts. After two days of search cops finally had their first stroke of luck when Pooja switched on her cellphone on Sunday afternoon, revealing that the girls were staying in Murbad.
Soon a team of policemen in civil clothes was dispatched to the Murbad residence of Sameer, who on being probed took the cops to the girls. “The boy had arranged accommodation for the girls on the mezzanine floor of one of the houses in the same village. As we entered the house, we found the girls playing cards. We convinced them to accompany us and finally reached the police station in the wee hours of Sunday,” said police inspector Subhas Raut from Vakola.
‘Won’t go home’
But, instead of being mirthful on seeing their parents, the teenagers simply refused to go back to their own homes. Soon after the girls were brought to the police station, a team of four women constables were appointed to change their minds. “Despite several hours of interaction with them (the girls), they refused to stay with their parents. Giving their custody to the parents in such a scenario would have been dangerous, as they would flee again,” said an officer from Vakola police station, who was part of the team that tracked down the runaways. The cops then brought in some counsellors and after a long span of interactions with them, the girls finally relented and agreed to go back to their respective families.
However, a police officer said that two of them were still not fully convinced. Cops then told them that in such a situation they would have to be sent to a remand home. That ‘helped’ the teens finally make up their minds. Meanwhile, Sameer Bhalerao, and his friend and aide Mayur Darove have been arrested on charges of kidnapping. They will be produced in court today. A police official told MiD DAY that Sameer has a previous criminal record.
“We are glad they have come back. They are immature and they don’t know what they are doing. They are still not aware of the consequences. We thank God that they are safe and back,” said Dayanant Sawant, father of Kanta and Divya. Anil Patekar, father of Sampada, added, “All the politicians came rushing in after the matter erupted in the media. We don’t plan on reprimanding the girls; they can live their lives by their own rules. We’ve never scolded them before.”