Lucknow: Move aside, Father Brown, guruji’s on the case. A girl goes missing and a young man is jailed for her ‘murder’ — but years later, she’s found alive, now married and with two kids. Who spotted her? A spiritual teacher.
Seven years after her parents told the police that an unidentified body recovered from Etmadpur, Agra was that of their 15-year-old daughter, the girl — now an adult — has turned up in Hathras. While the woman is very much alive, the man accused of kidnapping and murdering her in 2015 continues to be behind bars.
It was a spiritual teacher from Vrindavan, the guru of the accused’s mother, who claims to have spotted the ‘missing’ woman during a katha (recitation) in Tiparas village, Hathras. The guru has alleged that the woman was in touch with her family, who the police say will face an FIR if the DNA samples collected from them match those of the woman.
For now, the woman has been remanded to judicial custody at an observation home.
The case dates back to February 2015 when Pravesh, then a student of Class 10, apparently went missing from a temple where she had gone to offer prayers on Shivratri. At the time, her parents accused their neighbour, Vishnu Gautam, of kidnapping her, allegedly to compel her into marriage. Both families were residents of Dhatauli village in Aligarh’s Gonda block.
Vishnu was booked under sections 363 (punishment for kidnapping) and 366 (kidnapping, abducting woman to compel her to marry someone against her will) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Sections 302 (murder) and 201 (destruction of evidence) were also subsequently invoked against him after Pravesh’s parents identified a body recovered in March 2015 as that of their daughter, an Aligarh police officer told ThePrint.
Arrested by the Tundla police on 19 August, 2015, for allegedly helping a history-sheeter escape police custody, Vishnu was behind bars until 2020 when he was released on bail. But he was jailed again in October this year in the kidnapping and murder case, in which he is still under trial.
It was only earlier this month that Bhagwatacharya Uday Krishna Shastri, the guru of Vishnu’s mother, spotted Pravesh and alerted the mother before approaching the UP Police.
According to Shastri, he recognised Pravesh from pictures of her shown to him by his disciple Sunita — Vishnu’s mother — seven years ago. The mother, whose husband died 26 years ago, had sought his help to trace the ‘missing’ girl while also alleging that Vishnu was framed, he said.
He told ThePrint: “Sunita is my disciple and a regular at my ashram in Vrindavan… A few days back, I had gone to Tiparas village for a Bhagwat Katha (recitation of the Bhagavad Gita) where I saw this woman. She had been attending my recitals for a few days. When I asked other attendees about her, they told me that she had run away from her house and got married against her parents’ wishes.”
Shastri said that hearing about the woman’s background aroused his suspicion, and he asked his disciples to click pictures of her that he then shared with Sunita, who identified the woman as Pravesh. “She (Sunita) was confident and said their families were from the same village and she had observed her (Pravesh) since childhood. I accompanied her to meet the Aligarh SSP (senior superintendent of police), after which the officer ordered an inquiry,” he said.
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Can’t believe her parents, say police
After Shastri and Sunita approached Aligarh SSP Kalanidhi Naithani, a team of officers from the Gonda police station was dispatched to Nagla Chaukha village, in the Hathras gate area, where they found they found Pravesh living as ‘Pooja’, with her husband Rajkumar and their two children.
Made to confront each other at the Gonda police station Monday, her parents and brother identified the woman as Pravesh, according to the police.
Raghvendra Singh, circle officer (CO), Iglas, told ThePrint: “The woman’s parents identified her as Pravesh, after which she was produced before the (POCSO) court of additional district and sessions judge Virendra Nath Pandey. The DNA of the parents and the woman will be profiled because they had identified a dead body as that of their daughter, and are now identifying this woman as Pravesh. Their statements can’t be believed and need to be legally recorded with proof.”
On Monday, Gonda police station SHO (station house officer) Umesh Kumar Sharma sought permission from the POCSO court to record Pravesh’s statement and that of her parents under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), besides profiling their DNA samples.
Sources in the Aligarh police said an FIR could be lodged against the woman and her parents if their DNA samples turn out to be a match.
The newspaper Amar Ujala quoted Pravesh’s father, Devendra Singh, as saying that they had indeed been in touch with their daughter for the past one-and-a-half years, and that they’d remained quiet because they were scared, didn’t want to get involved in any legal tussle and were worried about the stigma that would be attached to the incident.
Speaking to ThePrint, Supreme Court advocate Kumar Mihir explained that, in any murder case, it has to be “conclusively ascertained” that the recovered dead body is that of the person who was allegedly murdered.
“Even in the Shraddha Walkar case, the problem the police are facing is that they are unable to trace her head, even as other body parts have been found. In this case, the value of the evidence submitted by police at the time of filing the chargesheet and thereon has to be seen. It seems that the evidence would naturally be shoddy.
Referring to the underdeveloped law of torts in India, he added, “The problem in our country is that, unlike western countries, while compensation can be sought for a malicious case as a tort, no court actually compensates. If a malicious suit is filed in the US, the judiciary there awards a hefty compensation to the aggrieved.”
‘We’ve found real culprit’, says Vishnu’s mother
Speaking to reporters Monday, Sunita Gautam reiterated that her son Vishnu had been framed. “He (Vishnu) was accused of murdering her (Pravesh) in Etmadpur. My son has done no wrong. I was a poor woman trying to raise my children. My maharaj ji (spiritual adviser) asked me about the pictures he shared and I told him that it was the same girl. Only then did I get to know that she was alive. My son is innocent and has been framed in this case. I want a decision in the case,” she said.
Demanding that those responsible for the family’s plight be booked, she also urged the courts to free and acquit Vishnu without wasting any time. “After seven years, we have found the real culprit,” she told the media outside the courthouse.
Her guru Shastri, too, said that he sensed a conspiracy to frame Vishnu in the case.
“We have been informed that the woman was in touch with her parents from at least a year-and-a-half ago. The man she married is a distant relative of hers. Despite knowing that their daughter was alive, her family did not inform the police,” he told ThePrint.
Adding, “It seems that they wanted to frame Vishnu because the duo would talk to each other and the woman’s family didn’t like it and both came from different castes. Since Vishnu’s image in the village was that of a rebellious teenager, they (girl’s family) simply took his name and accused him of kidnapping and later murder (of their daughter).”
However, Aligarh police claim that though he may be innocent in this case, Vishnu is a “known offender”. He has several cases lodged against him, some filed before he was accused in this case, said CO (Iglas) Raghvendra Singh.
“In May 2015, he (Vishnu) was accused of helping history-sheeter Pankaj alias Bhola escape from police custody while the latter was being taken to Firozabad jail from Mathura jail. He (Vishnu) was also accused of looting a policeman’s rifle back then. He even has a Gangster Act and an NSA (National Security Act) case lodged against him,” Singh told ThePrint.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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