Arita Sarkar's book deals with high-profile child kidnapping
mid-day reporter and author of a new book, Arita Sarkar, spells out the horrors of high-profile child abductions in India, in which revenge and ransom were the key motives
The crime was in the numbers - that's what got my attention and that's one of the reasons why I chose to research on child kidnappings when I was approached to write a book. The number of child victims have continued to grow substantially and as of 2016 [the last available figures], the figure stood at 54,328, with the highest number of cases reported in Uttar Pradesh. This was a significant increase from 28,167 in 2013 and 38,555 in the following year.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) cites nearly 10 motives for children being kidnapped, with marriage said to be the most common reason. But, for this book, I chose to look at cases where ransom and revenge were the primary motives. While this is a small number [in 2016, of the total number of cases, 168 children were kidnapped for ransom while 250 were for revenge], the possibility of rescuing the child alive in these scenarios is lesser.
This is because, 98 per cent of the time, the children are kidnapped by someone, who is known to the family. There is always the fear that if they [the kidnappers] return the child, the child will reveal their identity. So, the younger the kid, the higher the chance of getting the kid back alive. If the child is under two, it's likely he or she will not remember the face of their kidnapper. But worse is if the kidnapper is a novice. They tend to panic when things don't go as per their plan, and sometimes murder seems like the only solution to them. The high-profile kidnapping of 11-year-old Mukta and seven-year-old Ritesh Jain (name changed) by the driver of their school van and his accomplice in Coimbatore in October 2010, is a case in point. The duo raped Mukta in an impulsive moment. According to their retelling of events, they later realised the possible consequences of what they had done, and that they could not return Mukta and Ritesh to their parents alive. They first tried to poison the kids, before throwing them into a canal.
My own interest in cases concerning the Juvenile Justice Act, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and child rehabilitation led me to work on this book. I realised how, because of the poor implementation of these laws children are most vulnerable in our legal set-up.
I eventually shortlisted 10 cases, where multiple serious offences have been committed in a single case, spending almost two weeks in every city, speaking with the investigators, lawyers, the families of the victim and the accused, and sometimes even the accused. For instance, I spoke with Himanshu Ranka, whose alleged role was plotting the kidnap of his 13-year-old cousin Adit Ranka. He was acquitted because the cops didn't find enough evidence linking him to the crime, and Himangshu's friend Vijesh was found guilty. Adit was stabbed and burnt, possibly while he was still alive. Himanshu told me that he didn't mind going behind bars as much as being accused of killing his own brother.
That brings me to the collection of evidence, which in the course of the research, I learnt was a problem area. Based on the interactions I had with various senior police officials, many believe that better investigation and proper collection of evidence can help to increase the rate of conviction in kidnapping cases. This, they feel, can prove to be the biggest deterrent for others who plan to commit the crime of kidnapping in future.
The hardest part of my research, however, was speaking with the family. The idea was to go beyond their memory of the day the child was kidnapped. I wanted to profile the victim, and that was a bigger challenge for them to talk about, because it was a reminder of what is now, missing in their life. Because, here's the thing about a crime like this one - nobody got to say goodbye. The kid left the house one day, and never came back home. Kidnapped is Arita Sarkar's debut non-fiction, published by Penguin Random House.
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