In 2017, Rajesh Kumar, the Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) of Panchkula’s Anti Human-Trafficking unit was on his way to Dehradun with a 15-year-old boy. He was on a mission to trace the families of such kids, and the fear of breaking this child’s heart loomed large in his mind.
Rajesh only had two clues — the boy had somehow been separated from his family in 2007, and his aunt lived in Dehradun. However, he was calm and constantly reassured the boy that everything would be alright.
Upon reaching the city, Rajesh decided that he would not pressure the boy to jog his memory. Instead, the duo walked around the city in the hope that he would remember something, anything familiar. An hour or so later, the boy suddenly remarked that the lane in which his aunt lived had a sewer and a temple. Upon entering one lane with that combination, a girl screamed his name from her rooftop and later confirmed that the boy was her cousin.
Rajesh verified all the necessary details and found the boy’s parents lived in Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh and handed over the case to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC). A few days later, the parents approached the CWC with the requisite proofs and took their child home.
A major reason why the boy was able to recollect his childhood memories was the protocol followed by Rajesh and his team, which was to build a friendly rapport, gain their trust, but most importantly, believe them no matter what. Sure, this method took significantly more effort and time — and it could have failed — but that was a risk that the policeman was willing to take.
The teenager is one of the 500 successful child missing cases that Rajesh has solved since his posting as the ASI of the anti-human-trafficking unit in 2015. That year, he solved six cases.
“Helping families reunite after months and years is very emotional and overwhelming for me. On certain occasions, it is very hard to hold back my tears. My father, who served in the police force, always used to say that let your job set examples of kindness and humanity, go beyond your duty. When I saw the results of sincere effort and time for my first case, I knew I belonged here,” Rajesh tells The Better India.
The next year, his composure, patience and alertness helped him solve 33 similar cases, and there has been no looking back since. He takes anywhere between an hour to six months to solve one case but irrespective of the timeline, his commitment and dedication are unshakeable throughout.
Apart from missing kids cases, Rajesh also works towards rehabilitating beggars and trafficking survivors.
A Multi-Pronged Strategy
Rajesh mentions that being friendly and winning the child’s trust is the key to initiate a conversation, who may be coping with the loss of family. Once they open up, which may take hours or even months to reveal helpful information, and you have to pay close attention.
“I usually ask them about their favourite food, family attire, if they remember any shops, rivers or trees. All the kids in Panchkula Child Care Institution’s (CCI) may not be from Haryana and I get calls from parents across India for help. In such cases, a child’s accent helps in identifying their region,” explains Rajesh.
In certain cases, even one clue from the child is enough to solve the case. Take for instance the case of Dimple (name changed to protect identity) from Panipat who ended up in CCI, Shimla in 2007. She got lost on her way from school and all she vaguely remembered was her dad dealt in carpet weaving.
Using just that one piece of information, Rajesh searched every missing complaint filed by a carpet weaver in Panchkula but it was all in vain. One night it suddenly struck him that Panipat is a hub for carpet making units. He circulated the girl’s photo in police stations and within a few days, her parents identified her.
Rajesh has multiple ways of finding the family. He has formed a Whatsapp group of social workers, CCI members, police units of various states that look after missing complaints. It has made his work faster. All he has to do is post a picture and details and he gets a lead, and sometimes, is directly contacted by the family.
Social media, he says, is proving to be a boon. Rajesh also maintains a Facebook page called ‘Missing Children Panchkula’ where he shares the same details. Other methods include circulating the picture in police stations.
“It is a herculean task to find a child’s family that may be living in a different state or has shifted base multiple times. The Whatsapp group started by Rajesh has eased the channel of communication. We have been able to help a child just by sharing a photograph without any details. His work is always detailed to perfection and we have been able to solve old cases. 68 kids living in our shelter house have gotten back with their parents with the help of Rajesh. I remember 1-2 cases where he just took a couple of hours,” Chandan Singh, Child Welfare Officer, Salaam Baalak Trust (Ghaziabad) tells TBI.
Sushma Kumari from Nari Seva Sadan Mashobra (Shimla) appreciates Rajesh’s ‘never give up’ attitude and tells TBI, “Rajesh has helped us solve cases where we had lost all hope. One child at our shelter was unable to give any information for months. But during a phone call with Rajesh, he ended up naming his school. His warmth and persona is instantly liked by children.”
After finding the child’s family, Rajesh conducts a verification process, before handing over the case to CWC.
“I look through the birth certificate, Aadhaar card, and even conduct a video call with the family if they are in another state, to match the parent’s description of the child. On certain occasions where I feel parents are not in a state to support the child, I recommend the CWC to find alternatives or let the child stay at the shelter home. I also have a follow-up system in place to ensure everything is fine by talking to the child. I maintain a personal written record of every case in case anyone wants to take notes,” he says.
Due to follow-up sessions, Rajesh ends up investing extra time in each case. Though his family complaints of attending calls late in the night and visiting other regions without any prior notice, he does not mind.
“On many occasions, I am unable to dedicate time to my own family. They do understand and support my work but my kids do get sad. Nothing is more important to me than this duty” he adds.
Rajesh is available on phone and if you want any help regarding missing kids, you can connect with him at 94175 67221.
You can also call 1098 helpline number or reach out to the District Child Protection Officer.
Edited by Gayatri Mishra