Just a day after her twelfth birthday, a girl in Andhra Pradesh’s Prakasam district went missing while walking from her school to hostel on October 11 last year.
Her father is confident that a body found hundreds of miles away in Gujarat’s Surat is that of his daughter.
But investigators are not so sure as they continue efforts to confirm the identity of the girl who was allegedly raped and murdered and dumped in an industrial neighbourhood of Surat on April 6.
The Surat Police have not found a large mole on the dead girl’s right hand, a distinct mark the Andhra Pradesh man insists was present on his daughter’s limb. So, on Wednesday, efforts to identify the murdered girl continued even as the police awaited results of a DNA test.
The body of the girl, estimated to be aged between nine and 11 years, was found dumped next to a cricket field along the Jiva-Budhiya Road in Surat’s Pandesara neighbourhood.
The autopsy report pointed to 86 injuries on her body, including in her private parts. The injuries suggested she had been tortured and sexually assaulted in captivity for at least eight days before she was strangulated and dumped.
As the police put up posters of the girl and shared her photos on social media, a woman claiming to be the girl’s mother contacted NJ Panchal, a Pandesara police sub-inspector whose mobile phone number was shared in the posters on Saturday.
Around the same time, another police team was searching the database of thousands of missing children in India. They were focusing on states like Odisha, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh as their probe suggested the child could be belonging to one of those states.
“We shortlisted a total of 37 missing children whose age, gender and facial features matched the dead girl’s. We were calling their parents or the local police to confirm. One such call was made to the Andhra couple,” said RR Sarvaiya, assistant commissioner of police, Surat Crime Branch.
When images were exchanged on WhatsApp with the Andhra couple, they were convinced the girl was their missing child. They contacted the local police and tried to book a train ticket, but weren’t able to find a seat. So, two Andhra policemen drove the father down to Surat. The man had brought along his daughter’s Aadhaar card.
“When we took the man to the mortuary and showed him the girl, he immediately broke down. He did not want to believe the dead girl was his daughter, but insisted it was his girl. But when he checked the girl’s arm for the mole, he couldn’t find it. He brought it to our notice,” said an investigator.
Though both the girls sported short hair, there was considerable difference in their physical height. “The dead girl is taller despite shrinking. Her face too has shrunk since her death and the cheekbones of the two children are different. It is possible that the man is emotionally swayed and believed it was his daughter. But we aren’t distrusting him and are awaiting the DNA test results before confirming,” said the investigator. The DNA results could take at least four days, the officer said.
The man was the seventh parent called to Surat for identification so far. Three of them had returned home without even checking the girl’s body while the three others – two from Rajasthan and one from Andhra Pradesh – had denied after taking a look at the dead child.