The murder of Esther Anuhya Appalling police apathy

Published: March 26, 2014 - 16:41

The Mumbai Police are notorious for dragging their feet during investigations, particularly in the case of missing persons. The lesser the number of FIRs reported the safer the city seems. And, ironic as it may be, all the credit goes to the police for keeping the ‘crime rate low’

Gajanan Khergamker Mumbai 

On January 4 this year, a 23-year-old software engineer named Esther Anuhya took the Visakhapatnam-Mumbai LTT Express train from Vijaywada. As per railway records and corraborated by CCTVs on the platform, she arrived at Mumbai’s Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT) at 4.55 am on January 5 from there she vanished. When Esther didn’t call after reaching the YMCA hostel, her father, S. Jonathan Prasad, panicked and asked his cousin Singavarapu Sunita to file a missing person complaint at the nearest police station. Sunita went to file a complaint at the police station at MIDC Andheri. She was told to instead go to Kurla Railway police station, which did not register the complaint either. She was told to report the complaint to Vijaywada police station in Andhra Pradesh.

The next morning, Jonathan Prasad arrived in Mumbai and this is when a complaint, not an FIR, was noted down in the police diary—first by the Vinoba Bhave Nagar police station in Kurla West and then by the Tilak Nagar police station in Kurla East.

When Jonathan approached senior police officers in Mumbai, they claimed Esther had eloped and would show up, as was the case with “99 per cent such cases” says Jonathan.

There was no option for Esther’s family but to launch a hunt for their girl themselves. Jonathan’s cousin Arun Kumar and Esther’s cousins Sujeeth Emmanuel, and Deepak Prasad, a businessman from Secunderabad, arrived a couple of days later to help.

Every day, Esther’s family members set out visiting police stations, red-light areas, bus stops, railway stations, showing her photos to auto-rickshaw drivers, cabbies, and bus conductors. They finally managed to locate her cellphone signals, which indicated that it was in Bhandup. In spite of informing the police, they refused to act and continued to drag their feet.

On January 16, the family formed search parties and started scouring the area near and around the Bhandup cellphone towers, after they were told by the police that it was not in
their jurisdiction.

Since the telephone tower signals indicated a location ‘near Bhandup Talao’ and there was a talao (pond) in Bhandup West, the search was initially conducted in Bhandup West. Finally, one of the two groups found Esther’s body on the Eastern Express Highway.

According to Sujeeth, “The body appeared to be of a female. We could not identify the face, it was badly decomposed. There were dogs on the prowl. We found a police patrol nearby and registered a complaint. The police were initially hesitant to move the body, but we insisted. Had we left the body there another night, dogs would have destroyed it.” The family identified the corpse by a familiar ring. Their worst fears had come true. 

Killer Remains At Large

On February 2, the police claimed rapid developments in the case, but Esther’s family remains highly skeptical. Jonathan says, “All the police kept doing was checking the CDRs (call data records) of my daughter, pointing out that she had spoken for 20 minutes to this person or that.”

The railway police, on their part, made loud claims of having stumbled on a lead; they claimed they had CCTV footage showing Esther at Lokmanya Tilak Terminus following a man. The police are now on the lookout for the ‘suspect,’ a man who had helped Esther with her luggage; they do not rule out the possibility of him being an accomplice in the crime.

“It is suspected that the person accompanying Esther was known to her. As he was perhaps the last person to see her, he may be able to give us a clearer picture about what happened that day,” says a police official. The man appeared to be between 30 and 35 years of age.

Esther’s father confirms having seen the footage but points to the wild assumptions the Mumbai police continue to make. “Esther was dragging her trolley and carrying her laptop bag on her back. The other person was dragging his trolley a few steps ahead of her. The visual does not show any link between Esther and that guy. We could not identify the person but we came to know that the police had already picked up the guy. If the police have the culprits then they should recover her belongings and her laptop, then we can be sure they have the right men.”

And now, a month after the first images of the person accompanying Esther were released, the Mumbai police claim to have obtained over five lakh cellphone numbers that were active at Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (where Esther alighted from the train on January 5) and Kanjurmarg (close to where her body was discovered on January 16). But predictably,  filtering through the five lakh numbers before approaching the users to zero in on the mystery man seen with Esther in the CCTV footage is expected to take a lot of time.

The Mumbai police still are in the dark about this case, and seem headed nowhere. They even detained the ‘close’ friend who had apparently travelled with her to Mumbai, but in a different compartment, and had proceeded to Shirdi the same morning Esther went missing. And now they are trying to locate the “middle-aged man carrying her luggage” the same morning and who, the police feel, may be ‘an accomplice’ in the crime. 

Delay in filing fir

The flurry of investigations began a good 25 days after hesitating to even file a First Information Report (FIR), let aside launching any investigation or search for the victim.

The Mumbai Police are notorious for dragging their feet during investigations, particularly in the case of missing persons. In Esther Anuhya’s case, the police delayed investigation on the premise that she could have eloped with someone. The issue of delay on the part of the police in filing an FIR has been tackled threadbare by the Supreme Court, which recently passed a judgment stating that it is mandatory for the police to register an FIR if a complainant approaches them for the registration of a cognizable offence.

So often, victims of sexual assault, burglary, chain-snatching, theft—crimes mostly affecting women — allege that the police are ‘reluctant’ to file FIRs. Victims are often made to wait for hours before the police lodge an FIR. That is, if the police don’t dismiss the complaint as a non-cognizable offence altogether.

The apparent reluctance of the police to file FIRs stems from the fact that they would have to initiate investigations and be held accountable for any lapses therein. The lesser the number of FIR reported the safer the city seems...seems, atleast superficially. And, as ironic as it may seem, all the credit goes to the police for keeping the ‘crime rate low’!

Issues of delay in investigation could be addressed by the police beginning to police themselves. It’s for this reason that CCTVs may be installed at all police stations in the state of Madhya Pradesh. This is among one of the many recommendations made by a women’s panel to the state government. On similar lines, the Gujarat Government told the Gujarat High Court that it would soon install CCTV cameras in all 40 police stations in Ahmedabad in order to curb custodial torture. Despite a Supreme Court order on the mandatory filing of FIRs and a gender-sensitized approach by the police, in reality, things are far different. One way of ensuring that the law is followed in toto is by placing CCTVs in all police stations across the state of Maharashtra as well; Mumbai has recently earned the tag of being as unsafe as Delhi.

The Mumbai Police are notorious for dragging their feet during investigations, particularly in the case of missing persons. The lesser the number of FIRs reported the safer the city seems. And, ironic as it may be, all the credit goes to the police for keeping the ‘crime rate low’
Gajanan Khergamker Mumbai 

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