missing children

On February 3, 2021, Nitin Negi, who runs an electronics goods repair shop in Uttam Nagar, New Delhi, found a toddler outside his shop, no trace of his parents. The shopkeeper asked the little fellow what his name was, what his mother’s name was, and what his father was called. The toddler said he was Nana, his mother Anju and there was no clear response to the father’s name.

Negi shot a short video of the little boy and posted it on some WhatsApp groups that he was part of. In just a few hours, he got a phone call from the parents of the little boy. “I went with them to their house, four lanes away. I made a few enquiries with neighbours, who assured me that the boy was indeed the son of this couple. It was only after I was assured that they were indeed his parents that I let him go. I then shot another video to update the earlier one, telling people that the case of the missing parents had been quickly resolved,” Negi said.

There was no need for the intervention of police, and this child was restored to his family by the alertness and presence of mind of a shopkeeper, in just a few hours.

National Crime Records Bureau data from 2016 shows that over 60,000 children go missing each year in India, and only about half of them are ever found again. Half of all children who go missing remain untraced.

Tracing a missing person, however, is not rocket science. As old people were being dumped into a vehicle in Indore by the municipal corporation recently and left to fend for themselves on the outskirts of the city, one happy incident was reported – a woman was shown a video of the people being left by the roadside and recognized her husband. The woman had been searching for him after he went missing a month prior, and was quick to act to bring him home once she saw that video.

The question arises: Why, despite a complaint lodged with police, was this man not found earlier? Why could not city police, through Twitter and other media, post messages of missing people and aid in finding those lost sooner? Why must families whose loved ones have suddenly gone missing live in dread, when there are means available to publicize the images of the people missing and invite the general public to help trace them?

In December last year, the Supreme Court ordered that all police stations must have CCTV cameras installed, so that police accountability is ensured. That decision was criticized – at a time when police forces across the country face staff crunches, when equipment is scarce and there are police stations that do not have adequate electricity supply or vehicles, will the government spend scarce resources on installing CCTV cameras that may not work?

Perhaps the ideal would be less technology and better training to use resources already available, and greater respect for the people the police is meant to serve. As things are, the real victims of crime are scared of approaching police – seeking police help might only make a bad situation worse, it is feared.

That is also why the prompt action by Nitin Negi should not go unremarked. Quick-thinking, effective action by alert citizens would go a long way in allowing a society to function effectively without relying entirely on an overburdened, understaffed police force.

Rosamma Thomas is an independent journalist


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