In Focus

Child Killing Could Have Been Prevented If Measures Were Taken On Time

By Gajanan Khergamker

They say, nothing can be more painful for a parent than the death of one’s child. As for a newborn infant killed, it's a pain that transgresses to a society that will collectively have to bear. Three-month-old Arya's kidnapping and murder, allegedly committed by a transgender irate for being refused bakshish, sent shockwaves across South Mumbai's Colaba-Cuffe Parade areas. 

DISTRAUGHT: Indu and Chandrakant Chitakote with grandson Siddhant in shock
That the offence took place, like a few others in the past, in alarming proximity to the Cuffe Parade Police Station was shocking. The act was an inevitability, according to locals, who claim that the mushrooming of miscreants, drug addicts and felons in the zone must be addressed by the local police. The onus lies on the police who need to act swiftly to prevent crime rather than solve it.

The Events As They Unfurled...Over The Years

Time: Around 1:00 am on 9 July 2021 in a house in a by-lane in Ambedkar Nagar.

The heat here is unbearable. And for good reason too. The sea lies barely a stone's throw away from the Cuffe Parade slum in South Mumbai. The humidity during the monsoons is unbearable for inmates of the slum known to keep the doors of their shanties open for most of the time.

For diabetic and hypertensive 60-year-old Indu Chitakote it was only natural to wake up, several times at night. 

On the night of 8 July 2021, with ventilation impaired, she found it difficult to breathe freely and woke up covered in a sheen of sweat at around one am. Like most others in the slum, she unlatched the door of her house that lay at the end of a passage interlined with others and swung it open. Most households would leave the doors to their homes open during hot days jarring them only to keep stray cats at bay.

IN MOURNING: Neighbours and relatives poured in to console the family

She then turned her three-month-old granddaughter Arya, the apple of her eyes, lying on her stomach, to her back, covered her with a sheet and placed pillows on her side so she didn't roll back. Alongside slept six-year-old grandson Siddhant and husband Chandrakant, dead as a log after a long day's work as a mason. Indu's son Sachin, jobless since the lockdown, and daughter-in-law Joshna slept a few feet away. She drifted off to sleep.

A little while later, Indu woke up startled with the clanging sound of a steel plate falling on the ground on being pushed off a ledge by a stray cat. The others too woke up abruptly. And then, Joshna exclaimed that Arya was missing! Within moments, the entire family was up on their feet and rushed to look for Arya who they were certain had been taken away by someone who had managed to access the open door.

Years of political campaigning and social work later, Indu had generated immense goodwill in the zone and residents from within the vicinity, even beyond rushed in to help in whatever way possible. 

Sachin rushed out of the home to look for Arya, Joshna was joined in by immediate neighbours screaming out for the child in the quiet of the night. And, within moments, the entire lane was awake. The local police station at Cuffe Parade was apprised of the situation.

A WhatsApp message with an angelic Arya's image in a tiny white frock requesting 'any information' to help 'save a life' to contact the Cuffe Parade police began to make the rounds at night itself. By six am on 9 July 2021, word spread like fire across Ambedkar Nagar, Transit Camp, Ganesh Murti Nagar, Shiv Shastri Nagar, Machchimar even Gita Nagar in the vicinity.

And then, while rueing her decision to open the door at night before sleeping, Indu Chitakote suddenly remembered something that would change everything.

Time: Around 9:00 pm on 8 July 2021 at Indu Chitakote's house in Ambedkar Nagar.

A saree-clad local transgender aka kinnar resident Kannu swayed along the passage leading to Indu's house before being stopped at the doorstep by the activist grandmother. The transgender ducked her head into the house for cover from the heavy rain.

STUNNED: A neighbour sits distraught at the spot from where Arya was kidnapped

And, as usual, she demanded money and a saree from her because "ladke ko ladki hui." Exasperated with her incessant demands, that had grown by the day, Indu scolded her and told her that she would give her a saree but wouldn't give her any money then. She was ready to pay her Rs 200 and even consented to give her Rs 1,100 at a ceremony to be held when her eldest daughter, who had delivered a child four months back at Naigaon, arrived in Diwali. Kannu refused the offer and left her home angrily. 

Scolding Kannu came naturally to her. On Kannu getting upset, Indu didn't give much thought. Kannu was like that only.

Dressed in saree with kohl-clad eyes, she would stop by her house, like others, whenever the door was left ajar to ask for money. She lived in the vicinity and was, since birth, known to everyone in Ambedkar Nagar.

Time: During a night, twenty years back, in 2000 at Ambedkar Nagar.

Fired with a passion to clean up the entire zone comprising Ambedkar Nagar, social activist 40-year-old Indu Chitakote had taken up cudgels to tackle social ills like alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence. She would be called in by elderly parents, sometimes children to stop abusive men from inflicting physical injuries on the women at home. This, often, led Indu to knock on several doors at night and help save hapless wives and young mothers from the rage of drunken husbands or sons.

ANXIOUS: Women at Indu's house awaiting the results of the post-mortem of Arya's body
This time around, the screams that drew her attention were from her next-door home where she would have to regularly intervene to stop a man who physically abused his wife. The family, lived in a room that stood adjacent to Indu Chitakote's own home and any cacophony that emanated from their room would swiftly reach Indu's ears. 

They were Indu's tenants and Indu, prompt as ever to intervene, would rush off to the wife's aid even as her mother, and children - a four-year-old boy and his sister stood watching the drama unfold. 

The regular occurrence had become an integral part of Indu's social work life for the five years this family stayed as tenants with Indu.

Over the two decades, the four-year-old boy who had grown up watching the violence day after day at home, went on to become Kannu.

Time: Around 9:00 am on 9 July 2021 at Cuffe Parade Police Station.

Following Indu's statement about Kannu having 'fought' with her over the bakshish, she was demanding, along with corroborating versions from locals in Ambedkar Nagar, the Cuffe Parade Police sleuths took the transgender Kannu into custody and started questioning him. Reportedly, after a while of interrogation, Kannu 'broke down' and confessed that angered at Indu's refusal to pay him the 'blessing' money he 'kidnapped' Arya after entering the house when the door was ajar while all were asleep in the home at night. 

With the help of an accomplice, Kannu reportedly took the infant to a swamp nearby and drowned her in the dark of the night. He reportedly confessed before the police station at 11.00 am. 

A surging crowd of Ambedkar Nagar residents grew steadily even as the Cuffe Parade Police say they interrogated the two accused separately before 'taking' them to the 'site' of crime and 'rushed them back to the safety of the police station.’

The anger among the people, mostly young mothers incensed with the gruesome nature of the murder, was palpable. It was a matter of time before the situation spiralled out of control and the mob turn barbarous and lynch the accused to death.

Time: Around 1:30 pm on 9 July 2021 at the mangroves off Ambedkar Nagar in Cuffe Parade.

A specialised crew of crime detection personnel, fire brigade authorities and a few others made their way into Ambedkar Nagar's by-lanes and moved into the mangrove-filled waters off the coastline lining the slums. A stench of human faeces and sewage emanated through the air even as the sleuths stepped into the waist-deep waters at the spot identified by the accused in a combing operation. A few locals followed the team at a distance.

RECOVERY: A lifeless Arya being brought out by police personnel
In a little while, a ‘diver’ came across a sludge-covered body of a child lodged in the muddy marshland. Arya had been found. Albeit lifeless!

Her lifeless, muddy body was swiftly covered with a cloth and carried out by a policeman with others in tow to keep the public at bay and rushed off to J.J. Hospital at Byculla for a post-mortem. Arya's distraught parents, Sachin and Joshna rushed to the Hospital to see their child, one last time, before the post-mortem was conducted as a matter of procedure to the crimes committed and pinpoint the cause of death.

The worst fear of a child's parents remains the prospect of sexual assault and the physical pain that may be inflicted on their tender one. And then, there's the hearsay that follows any incident of this nature. That spreads like wildfire, even among the ‘educated’ and ‘informed,’ and causes more damage than the actual incident, is sadly lost here. 

So, where Arya was concerned, the same fears surfaced. While a few residents ‘vouched’ for a ‘fact’ that the child’s body had bled constantly from her private parts indicating ‘definite rape’, others said that the body had been coated with vermillion and ashes as she was a victim of a 'human sacrifice' conducted on Ashadha Amavasya that coincided with the date of the offence - 9 July 2021.

Videos shot on mobile phones by a few locals of the combing crew emerging from the marshy waters with Arya's lifeless body made the viral rounds as usual. And, conjectures flew about widely, as usual.

Time: Around 7 pm on 9 July 2021 at Indu Chitakote's house in Ambedkar Nagar.

A stream of incensed family members, residents, neighbours and friends of the family continued to flow steadily into Indu Chitakote's small house. Indu's married daughter Sarika Chitakote who lives at nearby Machchimar Nagar sat speechless in a corner. The turn of events had stunned her into silence.

Indu Chitakote sat against a wall unable to stop her tears. Deafening wails of grief, anger and consternation filled the air as a group of women - mostly Banjara fish-cleaners, domestic workers and house cooks - sat on the floor in support of Indutai in the time of her grief.

VIRAL: The WhatsApp message on Arya's missing that went viral
Grandfather Chandrakant Chitakote stood outside the house and refused to enter. Each time he even looked at the house, he would burst into tears. It reminded him of Arya. He had looked for his favourite granddaughter all over Ambedkar Nagar, all night long, from the time she was found missing at two am till her lifeless body was recovered at noon, Chandrakant was optimistic of finding her.
His voice had gone hoarse from screaming out her name over and over, in the dark of the night, calling out to friends and neighbours to look out for a wailing infant who could have been left abandoned in the open by the kidnapper.
And then, Chandrakant entered the house unable to stop the tears from flowing. Incoherent in his anger, the grandfather would suddenly break into a string of abuses. Indu sat distraught even as the women who had gathered raised their calls for justice. "Humein de do...hum iska insaaf karenge," they said in unison, baying for his blood.

And then, Joshna arrived from J.J. Hospital where the child's post-mortem had occurred and was led by a few to a corner. Just as she sat down, Joshna banged her head on a wall in abject despair and let out an ear-splitting wail as she cried out for her daughter. Sister-in-law Sarika, who had sat quietly till then simply couldn't stop herself watching Joshna cry. She broke down inconsolably on her part. Arya's six-year-old brother Siddhant too burst out into tears watching his mother cry. An entire family had been destroyed. For no fault of theirs. What’s worse is it was avoidable.

SUSPICIOUS: Septuagenarian Usha Waghmare has reservations on the true identity of the accused
"I demand that the police first check if he is a kinnar or not," said Ganesh Murti Nagar’s septuagenarian relative Usha Waghmare enraged at the occurrence. "A lot of boys and girls in the area now fake their identity as kinnar to get money from people. There are many addicts here in Ambedkar Nagar," she says. "Some 10-12 people who are not kinnar are known to harass the locals here. Ghar mein ghuskar maarte hai. Hum log morcha nikalenge…chodenge nahin," quips Usha, insisting that the police are complicit in their inaction.

Time 2:00 pm at Chandanwadi, Marine Lines, Mumbai.

A motley crowd of Ambedkar Nagar residents had begun to trickle in to witness the cremation of three-month-old Arya. The local police had prevented Arya's family from getting her body home at Ambedkar Nagar before the cremation leaving them with no option but to conduct it directly at the crematorium. 

An initial post-mortem report revealed that there had been no sexual assault and that the ‘cause of Arya's death was drowning.’ Meanwhile, WhatsApp groups of residents in the zone allege private hospitals harbour a nexus with eunuchs and transgenders to 'tip them off' whenever a child is born so that money can be extracted and then, shared. And then, amplifying the allegation to ‘it is a commonplace occurrence in India.’

This, among several conspiracy theories, presupposes everything but the obvious. The threat posed by drunkards, drug addicts and miscreants in Colaba's slums is formidable. The role played by the police, the Cuffe Parade Police in this case, includes prevention of crime and that remains unfulfilled.

The transgender, for now, with an accomplice has been taken into police custody and booked under Section 302 (Punishment for Murder), Section 201 (Tampering with Evidence), Section 363 (Kidnapping) and Section 34 (Common Intent) of the Indian Penal Code.

The lives of thousands of residents in the most crowded zones of Mumbai, her slums, remain at risk. And, at a higher risk are their young who remain vulnerable to attacks by felons and potential troublemakers who blend in with the rest.

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Neighbours, Residents In A State Of Shock

Suman Mane
Ganesh Murti Nagar's Suman Mane, a close friend of Indu and a local BJP worker said, "I am very close to her as both our families are from Karnataka. Today, she's completely distraught. The culprit must be hanged. Sadly, the police is hand in glove with the miscreants most of the time and do not support the locals at all. If there's no sunwai, how can there be justice?"

Anulata Mohite (left) with Indu
For 58-year-old Anulata Mohite, born in Colaba Market, who has spent the larger part of her life in Ambedkar Nagar, Arya's death came as a shock. She said the accused 'Kannu' was born in the neighbourhood of Ambedkar Nagar itself and was known to everyone. She said, "We would see him dance and beg for a living here. Who would have thought that he could do something like this?"

Ranidevi Valimiki
Ranidevi Valmiki selling bhutta on a cart outside Hanuman Temple in Ambedkar Nagar rued that there were a lot of drug addicts in the area and that it was "scary to live" there. And for good reason too. She has five grandchildren from two sons and remains "constantly worried" for them. She says, "After this incident, I am really worried for my grandchildren. We all have been living here for so many years. It's sad to see a day like this."

Sunita Yadav
Ganesh Murti Nagar’s Sunita Yadav who visited the family to convey her condolences insists, “Children are not safe here at all," and asks, "If they are not safe in their homes, then where else can their safety be guaranteed? There are so many crimes that take place here all the time… theft, assault, etc. I even heard about a girl being robbed recently of 
cash and jewellery from her own house in Ganesh Murti Nagar."

Muskan Yadav
Neighbour Muskan Yadav, a mother of four, who works as house-help says she leaves her four children – Varun, Sonu and nine-year-old twin girls Palak and Prachi – at home when she goes to work. Scarred by the incident, Muskan stood speechless in the middle of the wailing. Tears welled up in her eyes as she watched Arya's mother sob, relating to her pain. "The culprit should be locked up for life lest he commits another crime on an innocent child."

Kamli Rathod
Next-door neighbour Banjara Kamli Rathod, who works as an office help, said she was scared to "even go to the toilet at night" because of the increased presence of addicts and miscreants in the area. "The police refuse to listen to our concerns. Where should we keep our children if not at home?" she says. She would see Arya every day in the morning when her grandfather would bring her out and, again in the evening, when the grandmother would sit with the baby in the passage outside the house. "It’s the police’s job to control these crimes," she says.

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About Ambedkar Nagar

South Mumbai's oldest precinct Colaba, the richest zone of the nation's financial capital, also houses eight slums. Ambedkar Nagar that lies adjacent to a BEST bus depot and close to the military cantonment was carved out of sea and mangroves. Developed primarily by slum mafia involved in land filling and selling pitches marked with bamboos to poor migrants, the slum emerged in the '90s when shanties were raised on bamboo stilts installed 'in' the sea. 

By 2000, Cuffe Parade's mangroves had been relentlessly hacked as 1,000 huts had sprung up in Ambedkar Nagar and neighbouring Ganesh Murti Nagar. From 1990 to 2000, there was a reportedly 25 percent increase in slums in Colaba, and the population of Ambedkar Nagar increased from 1,248 to 4,991. Residents included drivers, domestic help, gardeners, vegetable vendors, security guards serving in the nearby residential and government buildings within the zone.

On Child Killings In the Past

Two-year-old Jagriti Patel was sleeping with her parents and brother on a pavement opposite Shiv Shastri Nagar when she was kidnapped on 20 October 2011. A police complaint was filed the same day, but for three weeks, police couldn’t lay a finger on a shred of evidence. It was as if she had disappeared into thin air.

INVESTIGATION: Cuffe Parade police personnel 'investigating' the spot where the child
was kidnapped while sleeping with her parents in 2011 (File Picture)

Then, on 13 November 2011, some slum children playing in a cluster of shrubs discovered a body. Jagriti’s body was lying barely 500 metres from where she had been “kidnapped”. There was little to see as the flesh had been scoured by sun and scavengers but for a blue t-shirt and a few bangles. The discovery then sent ripples of fear among residents of South Mumbai’s Shiv Shastri Nagar who, despite homes in the adjoining slum, slept on the pavement to beat the heat at night.

Within two months of two-year-old Jagriti Patel’s body discovered mutilated and battered at an abandoned dump yard that was earlier Sanjay Gandhi Nagar, another three-year-old Karishma Chavan’s body was found at the same place. 

Mocking the police who had claimed to have ‘got the killer’ by arresting another local who was later discharged by court, the killer went on to use the same modus operandi and dumped the second body in the same spot once again...leaving the police twiddling their thumbs and losing face.

The Cuffe Parade Police was then charged with attempts to ‘solve the case and detect’ as there was immense public pressure to do so. 

IN MEMORY: Meenakshi Patel holding a photograph of her departed child Jagriti while with her five-month-old son Nirmit (File Picture)

On 19 April 2012, a case of kidnapping was registered by South Mumbai’s Cuffe Parade Police at two am when septuagenarian Rani Fernandes found her two-and-a-half-year-old great-granddaughter Angel missing in the night. She had tucked the child into bed with her at night. When she woke a few hours later Angel was missing. Her raped and mutilated body was discovered near the sea at Maker Towers in Cuffe Parade later the same morning.

Reportedly, since 2012, it has become a routine for detectives pursuing the case to travel to any police station across the city and sometimes within the state, whenever any sexual assault case of minors is detected. Apparently, the sleuths look for DNA samples of the accused in those cases and match those with the ones in the Cuffe Parade killings.

The cases continue to remain undetected till date though efforts to catch the killer remain underway.

Need To Prevent Crime, Deter Criminals

As for the Arya murder case, the Cuffe Parade Police will need to present a water-tight investigation to court to be able to solve it and prove the complicity of the two accused in the matter. The motive for the killing, as a well-planned reaction to the refusal to pay bakshish must pass the test of evidence in court.

To further investigation and reach of the law, the authorities must swiftly place CCTV cameras in slum by-lanes and, particularly, along pathways leading to the marshy zones that must also be lit up to help document evidence for crimes of this nature that occur with alacrity over the years.

HIGH RISK: Slum-dwellers leave their children alone and unattended at home to go to work

Slum-dwellers, in Ambedkar Nagar, as elsewhere in Colaba exercise little caution when it comes to securing their homes with locked doors particularly so as they leave their children unattended and indoors. 

They are at high risk of such crimes especially when their parents are away at work. Securing the zones by increased police presence, camera coverage and initiating preventive action by nabbing drunkards, drug peddlers and local miscreants must be immediately undertaken. It makes best sense to deter a crime rather than solve it...however swiftly!

Three-month-old Arya Chitakote's journey from her birth on 19 March 2021 at a home in Shadipur village on the Karnataka–Telangana border could easily have lasted longer. 

It should have lasted longer!

(With inputs from Anushka Singh, Ruchi Verma and Manu Shrivastava)

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