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Mittoo and the case of his missing daughter

A disabled six-year-old vanishes, but police wonder if she even exists

A six-year-old girl is reported missing for two months. And the police aren’t willing to look because her parents can’t prove she ever existed.

Mapusa-based Mittoo Mujawar’s story is that of an exasperated father who claims he has lost his daughter Reshma. .

Mittoo’s story is straightforward enough. He says that on October 31, 2012, Reshma, unable to speak and congenitally disabled, went missing when her mother left the six-year-old alone with a younger sister as she picked up her son from school.

That, according to Mittoo, was the last time the Mujawars saw their daughter, who they now believe has been kidnapped by the father’s south Maharashtra-based business rivals. Originally from Maharashtra, Mujawar is a small-scale real estate developer who’s lived in Mapusa for the past 14 years.

“They targeted Reshma because of her handicap. They wouldn’t have been able to get past the gate if they had taken my two-year-old because she would have cried and screamed and attracted attention,” theorizes Mittoo, a father of four children.

Reshma seldom left the house, as she could only crawl, says Mittoo. Nor could she eat or go to a bathroom by herself, which rules out her straying away from the house, he adds.

The mystery only deepened when the father approached the police for help.

According to documents seen by Streets, Mittoo in his complaint to the Superintendent of Police in Porvorim blamed his business rivals based in Dodamarg, a village in south Maharashtra, for the ‘kidnapping’.

Before the alleged kidnapping, Mujawar had filed a number of complaints against the rivals, who he claims resold property he had purchased from them in Dodamarg.

He also said in the complaint that police arrested two of the rival businessmen the same night, but let them go soon after. Had the police pursued the case, he says, Reshma could have been found within a few hours of being nabbed.

The police, however, question whether Reshma exists and say that Mittoo’s story is cooked up. The neighbours they interrogated were not aware of Reshma’s existence. Mittoo could not produce a recent photograph or provide a birth certificate of his missing daughter, they argue.

Prajot Phadte, who is investigating the case at Mapusa police station, denied Mujawar’s claims that police demanded birth certificates, or other documents, before registering the complaint. He said demanding a birth certificate before lodging a complaint is out of question.

“So many people come to us, do we ask them all to provide documents? We would have to stop working if that were the case!”

Prajot says the police promptly registered Mujawar’s complaint and apprehended two of the four accused that same night, with the help of the Maharashtra police.

“Two days later, we also caught the other two mentioned in the FIR (first information report) and brought them for interrogation. We let the four go because there was not enough evidence to nail them,” he said.

Prajot says there are many inconsistencies that give police reasons to doubt the credibility of Mujawar’s statements.

“He said the accused threatened him the same night the child was kidnapped. We checked his phone records and found nothing,” Prajot said.

Mujawar has given police a photo of an infant, around six months old, while filing the complaint, but as it could have been any baby, this doesn’t help  much.

The family, he says, didn’t take many photos of Reshma. But he says he’s scouring photo albums in the homes of his relatives, trying to get hold of Reshma’s photo to prove that she exists.

“And tomorrow, if I provide her photo, will they find her the next day? I am not educated, but I am not a fool either. Can’t they get a prison portrait maker to make her sketch according to our description?” he asks.

Prajot agreed that police can get a private artist to make such a sketch.

“In spite of our doubts, we are definitely putting our effort in this investigation. We want to bring back the girl if she indeed exists,” Prajot said.

And what about the police claim that the neighbours have been unable to corroborate Mittoo’s story or confirm the existence of Reshma.

“Does every neighbour know who exactly stays in the society these days? What kind of an argument is that!” he says.

After much persuasion, he has finally managed to get his neighbour Sebastian Mascarenhas to file an affidavit saying he had seen Reshma sit on the stairs near the flat, while her siblings played on the ground floor, completing one loop of officially establishing that his daughter existed.

Reshma’s birth certificate, which Mujawar sourced from Maharashtra, where she was born, has added another layer of confusion. In the certificate, Reshma’s birth is dated only three months from her younger brother Ayan, a fact which has convinced the police that something is amiss.

“Yes, I don’t have a proof on paper, but that doesn’t mean my child doesn’t exist. Am I a fool to leave everything behind, my business, food and sleep, just for a figment of my imagination?!”

Social activist Sabina Martins, who has been lobbying with the police to treat the case seriously, believes that “not documented” certainly does not mean “not existing”.

The police need to first investigate and then explain, if necessary, as to why the case of the missing Reshma “is bogus”.

“If I see a child begging on the street has been kidnapped right in front of my eyes and go to police, will they ask me to provide that child’s birth certificate, too, before they take any action?” she asks.  Many government-issued certificates have wrong spellings, addresses, age or even gender of the applicants, she says.

If she does exist – disabled, alone and wrenched from the bosom of her family – her cause has not been helped by the squabbling between her worried father and the disbelieving police.