mid-day helps reunite missing 7-year-old girl with her parents

After the floods in Kashmir, a Good Samaritan spotted the girl near a dargah in Srinagar, asking for food. He and his family took the child in and put up a Facebook message about her family being from Bandra. Vinod Kumar Menon saw this post and sought the help of top cop Rakesh Maria; within 3 hours, cops managed to locate her family

A little girl’s fondness for ragda pattice saw her going missing from Bandra and the arms of her loving mother a little over a year ago.

The distraught family mounted a long search spanning at least five states, and just when they were beginning to lose hope, they got news of her yesterday, with a Facebook post and mid-day proving to be the catalysts.

Last afternoon, this reporter came across a message on Facebook: Yeh Ladki Dal Gate (Srinagar) Mein Mili Hai, please share it. The girl says that her name is Megha (5), D/o Ram Jani (Painter), Soni (Mother), Bandra Mumbai. A photograph of the girl accompanied the post.

Armed with this information, mid-day called up Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria, who acted swiftly and put Assistant Commissioner of Police (Missing Persons Bureau) Vasant Dhoble on the job. Within three hours of the information coming to light, Megha’s parents were located in BMC Colony, Bandra (East).

Last evening, when a mid-day team and ACP Dhoble reached the girl’s home in Bandra (E), we found only her mother and grandmother there. When the joy of finally getting some news of Megha subsided a little, the mother, 26-year-old Seema (also known as Soni) told this reporter that her daughter, who was actually six at the time of her disappearance and seven now, had the habit of wandering away due to her fondness for street food, especially ragda-pattice.

Seema told mid-day that Megha had gone missing twice before her long disappearance as well, but they were able to track her down within an hour. Once, her father had spotted her at a ragda-pattice stall and the second time she was found in Nirmal Nagar police station, when her parents had gone there to complain. Someone had found her after she had lost her way home, and taken her to the police station.

Megha’s grandfather Rakesh Thakur (62) said that though Seema’s husband had a place in Nallasopara, she would stay with them at their Bandra (East) residence. This was to facilitate her travel to houses in Khar and Bandra, where she worked as a domestic help, and also because her husband, Shardaprasad Chaudhary alias Ram Jani (29), who does odd jobs as a painter, is a drunkard.

A team of cops led by ACP Vasant Dhoble located Megha’s parents at their home in BMC Colony, Bandra (East). Dhoble left for Srinagar last evening to bring the girl back home.
A team of cops led by ACP Vasant Dhoble located Megha’s parents at their home in BMC Colony, Bandra (East). Dhoble left for Srinagar last evening to bring the girl back home.

Talking about June 23, 2013, the day Megha went missing, Seema said, “Around 10 am, I left my parents’ house with Megha to go to work. I used to drop her to her municipal school every day.

ACP Vasant Dhoble with Megha’s parents

When we reached Naupada, Megha insisted that she wanted to have ragda pattice and I ignored her because I was getting late for work. After some time, however, I noticed that she was not following me. I rushed to the ragda-pattice stall, but she was not there. I looked everywhere, but couldn’t find her.” The family then approached the Nirmal Nagar police to lodge a missing complaint.

Search begins
After the family got no news of Megha for days, they began to hunt for her. “We looked for her everywhere — from signals to railway stations, thinking she may have been kidnapped and forced into begging. We went as far as Kalyan and Ulhasnagar and searched every hospital in the city, but could not find her,” said Megha’s grandfather, Ramesh.

The Facebook post which led to Megha being found.
The Facebook post which led to Megha being found.

“We approached astrologers and godmen, and they asked us to visit places like Chandni Chowk in New Delhi, Mehsana in Gujarat, a few towns in Rajasthan, and Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. We had to take loans to visit these places, but all our efforts went in vain,” he added.

Faces lit up: Megha’s mother, Seema, and grandfather Ramesh Thakur with ACP Vasant Dhoble yesterday. Pic/Rane Ashish
Faces lit up: Megha’s mother, Seema, and grandfather Ramesh Thakur with ACP Vasant Dhoble yesterday. Pic/Rane Ashish

Srinagar angle
Unbeknownst to the family in Mumbai, Megha had, meanwhile, been found by Abdul Rashid Shaikh (47) in Srinagar, the Good Samaritan who has been taking care of her for the past two weeks.

“In September end, just after the J&K floods, I saw a girl standing alone and crying for food near a dargah. I went to her and asked for her name, but she was starving and could talk only about food, which I gave her. She then told me the name and details of her parents in Mumbai, but was not able to give any address, phone number or even recall how she had reached Srinagar. She had no money or belongings with her,” recalled Shaikh, who runs a water sport business at Dal Gate, Srinagar.

“I took Megha to a police station nearby, but since they did not have female police personnel, they advised me to go to another police station, but I took her home instead,” he added.

Shaikh told his wife Dilshad about Megha and the family decided to take her in. “She became friendly with my two daughters Suraya (18) and Naziya (16), and she is comfortable here. But, we would feel sorry and helpless when she would cry, asking to be taken to her mother,” said the businessman.

Shaikh then decided to approach his relative, Shaikh Parvez, who runs a tour and travel business, and told him about Megha. It was Parvez who decided to put up her details on Facebook.

Reunion awaits
Back in Mumbai, Seema’s in-laws blamed her for Megha’s disappearance and decided to keep her son Suresh (3) with them in Jabalpur. “We did not celebrate last Diwali as we were all in shock and our efforts to trace Megha did not yield any results. With the news of her being found, our house feels like it has been filled with light again,” said a tearful Seema.

The girl’s grandfather has assured the police that he will ensure Megha will never be allowed to move out alone and that he would take the best possible care of her once she returns.

When mid-day informed Shaikh about Megha’s parents being traced in Mumbai, he said, “I am thankful that she will be united with her parents at last. In the last few days, she has become a part of our family, and she is like my daughter now.”

Parvez, who had put up the Facebook post, said, “We thought that through the internet we would be able to reach out to her parents, and I am immeasurably glad that we succeeded.”

City Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria said, “I have asked ACP Dhoble to take a flight for Srinagar with a relative and get the girl back to Mumbai soon. Our probe won’t come to an end here. We will try to get information about the person or group behind the girl’s disappearance after we speak to her.”

ACP Dhoble said, “A missing complaint was lodged on June 5, 2013, vide minor missing register number 28/2013, the complaint was later converted into an FIR under section 363 (kidnapping) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on April 5, 2014, as per the Supreme Court order dated April 2013, which states that FIR should be registered under 363 of the IPC in all juvenile missing cases.”

ACP Dhoble and Ramesh Thakur left for Srinagar late last evening to bring the girl home.

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