Speaking to her family about her abduction from Bandra and the 15 months that she was taken from one part of the country to another, Megha shivers when someone even takes the name of her tormentor, Nasir
“Ab tumhara naam Megha nahi Salima hai, aur agar tumne bolne ki ya bhaagne ki koshish ki, toh main tumhara haath aur pair chaaku se kaat dunga” (Your name is not Megha anymore, it’s Salima, and if you try to escape or talk to anyone, I’ll chop off your hands and legs).
Megha with her mother (in blue), grandmother (in saree) and a neighbour after their reunion on Wednesday. Pic/Suresh KK
This, seven-year-old Megha has told her family, is how her abductor and tormentor, Nasir would threaten her if she refused to beg or do anything else that he asked her to. So traumatised is Megha by her year-long disappearance, during which she was taken to various cities, forced into begging and treated like a slave, that she begins to shiver if Nasir’s name is even mentioned.
The seven-year-old had gone missing from Bandra (East) in June last year, and was found by Abdul Rashid Shaikh in Srinagar. After looking for Megha for over a year in five states, her family was finally reunited with her on Wednesday.
In the 48-odd hours Megha has spent with her mother Seema and grandparents Ramesh Thakur and Tara, she has told them details that have left them in tears. Megha told them that on the morning of June 5, 2013, as she walked with her mother towards Naupada, she insisted on having ragda pattice from a roadside vendor.
mid-day’s reports on Wednesday and Thursday
As she was about to approach the vendor, a man (believed to be Nasir) with long hair and beard, approached her and asked her if she wanted chocolates. When she said yes, he gave her a chocolate and promised to give her more if she accompanied him.
Nasir then put a cloth on Megha’s mouth to make her lose consciousness and took her towards the railway tracks near Bandra Terminus. When she regained her senses, Megha said she found herself on a moving train.
When she would cry out for her mother, Nasir would give her a chocolate and explain to their co-passengers that her mother had missed the train. They got off at Gorakhpur station in UP and two more children a boy and a girl of her age joined them. She remembers that the boy was called Raeez.
Megha said that Nasir would instruct all three children to walk with him when he went out for begging, with a strict warning against opening their mouths. They were given torn clothes to wear and made to walk barefoot for hours.
They would sleep on the footpath and go without food for days, getting stale bread and other stale food once in a while, while Nasir himself ate heartily every day. Megha remembers being taken to Uttar Pradesh, Guwahati and Delhi before landing up in Jammu and Kashmir.
Megha told her family that when they reached Delhi, Nasir took them to a woman, with whom he had an altercation. He even assaulted the woman with a knife in a fit of rage.
While Megha was left with the woman, who ran a begging racket, Raeez and the other girl were taken to some other location and Megha never heard from them again. Nasir retuned some time later and took Megha to Jammu. He made her beg there for a few months, before heading to Srinagar.
Megha did not know it then, but the floods in Kashmir would prove to be a blessing in disguise for her. In mid-September, Nasir decided to flee and left Megha to fend for herself. While the waters swirled around her, Megha climbed the dome of a dargah to keep herself from drowning.
On October 2, she was spotted by Abdul Rashid Shaikh, who took her home and took care of her. A relative of Shaikh put up a Facebook post about Megha, which was spotted by this mid-day reporter, and the little girl was finally reunited with her family in Mumbai over a year after she went missing.
Megha’s grandfather, Ramesh Thakur, said, “We have decided to send her to school after Diwali. It will take some time for her to leave her trauma behind and speak freely about what had happened. We are not pressuring her and are not asking her too many questions.”
Assistant Commissioner of Police (Missing Persons Bureau) Vasant Dhoble, who had travelled with Thakur to Srinagar to get Megha back, said, “I have asked the local police to send a woman officer to get information from Megha about the suspect. Also, in case Megha needs a counsellor, we will provide one.”
Dr Harish Shetty, a child psychiatrist, said, “She should be handed over to a mental health professional for a month, so that she can recall her repressed memories and the truth of her absence can be ascertained. The trauma she has undergone will need sensitive handling.”
Waiting for a call
Members of the Shaikh family in Dal Gate, who took Megha in and looked after her as their own, meanwhile, were anxiously waiting for Megha to call them after she left for Mumbai on Wednesday. Whenever the phone would ring on Thursday, they would rush to answer thinking Megha was calling.
“My daughters Suriya and Naziya would sleep with Megha in the same room every night and they had got so attached to her that they are finding it hard to get sleep since she left,” said Abdul Rashid Shaikh.
Speaking to mid-day, Suriya said, “She is like my sister and she had grown very close to us. We wanted to talk to her desperately.”
The family finally spoke to Megha on Thursday evening. “It was an exciting moment. We were all happy to learn that Megha had reached her parents safely and that she is happy. We will be in touch with her over the phone and we also plan to visit her in Mumbai soon,” said Shaikh.