New Delhi: An abduction investigation that was expected to culminate in a happy reunion between a missing boy and his loving mother has turned into a dispute about his identity, and whether he really is who the police claim him to be.
The story begins in April 2017, when a boy named Suraj, believed to be eight years old at the time, was allegedly abducted by his mother’s former romantic partner Arjun Lal Dass and taken out of Delhi. The motive for the alleged abduction, according to Delhi Police, was revenge since his relationship with the boy’s mother, Seema Devi, had soured.
After a long and winding investigation, replete with several dead-ends, the police claimed they had finally obtained custody of Suraj — now aged around 13 years old — from a children’s home in Rajasthan earlier this year.
When a picture of the boy was sent to Seema Devi, she said it was indeed her long-lost son, and reiterated this after she had a video call with him, police sources told ThePrint.
Things took a strange turn when Suraj was finally brought to Delhi, on 2 July. The next day, on 3 July, he was to reunite with his mother in court, but, when Seema Devi arrived there, she took one look at him and declared he wasn’t her son after all, the sources said.
The results of a court-ordered DNA test are now awaited, but, in the meantime, the police as well as Seema Devi are insisting that they are sure they will be proved right.
Speaking to ThePrint, Seema Devi alleged: “The police are lying. They want me to take in someone else’s son.”
Senior police officers, meanwhile, said that they “suspect” that Seema didn’t identify her son in court due to “pressure from her present husband”, with whom she has one daughter.
All the other protagonists who might have shed some more light on the matter are not able to: Dass died in August 2021 and Suraj, currently housed in an observation home, has apparent memory issues.
Polygraph, arrest, recovery — but no clear answers
According to a senior police officer privy to the matter, Suraj went missing in April 2017 but the FIR, a copy of which is with ThePrint, was registered only in October, on the basis of the mother’s complaint against an unknown person in Northeast Delhi’s Nand Nagri police station. Dass’s name came up when the investigation started.
What exactly happened in the case over the next two years or so is unclear, but, in 2019, the Delhi High Court took suo motu cognisance of the matter and asked the police to produce the child in the court in the next hearing. Since then, there have been 23 such orders.
In January 2020, the police managed to track down Dass in Punjab, but there was no child with him, sources said.
According to police sources, Dass admitted in a polygraph, or lie detector, test that he had abducted the child after fighting with Seema about their relationship, but that Suraj had escaped and he did not know about the child’s whereabouts.
A police source privy to the case told ThePrint that it appeared as if Dass and Suraj lived together in rented accommodation for a while, but then fell upon hard times.
Dass had allegedly taken Suraj to Punjab and they started living in a rented accommodation. “Arjun lost all his money, and he and Suraj started living on the footpath. That’s when Suraj slipped away and took a train from Jalandhar to Nagaur [in Rajasthan],” the source claimed.
“There wasn’t any conclusive evidence against Dass apart from his disclosure statement,” the source said.
Nevertheless, Dass was arrested and a chargesheet filed against him, but before the case could proceed, he died while out on bail.
Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court had transferred the case from the Northeast district police’s Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) to the AHTU unit of the Crime Branch in February 2020.
More than two years after this, the police claimed they found Suraj at a children’s home — Rajasthan Bal Kalyan Samiti in Nagaur — where he had reportedly been living since 2021.
The officer privy to the case said Seema Devi had been asked to accompany the police team to Rajasthan, but she “refused”. Instead, he said, she was sent a picture of the boy on WhatsApp.
“An image of Suraj was sent to the mother Seema and she replied saying that it was her son. A video call was also arranged for identification and she reiterated it was her son,” the officer said.
“We recovered the child after massive efforts. We checked with CWCs [child welfare committees] across states. Photos of the child were out online and we contacted many NGOs,” he added.
‘Not my son’
According to sources in the Delhi Police, the child was brought to the national capital in July, after which things went downhill.
At the Delhi High Court on 3 July, Seema insisted that the boy standing in front of her was not her missing son, which led to a DNA test being ordered.
Later, sources said, Seema tried to refuse consent for the test in a lower court, but this attempt did not succeed.
“In the court, the woman showed a photo of a man and a child, saying that’s Suraj. However, police pointed out that the man in the photo is her present husband [who she married after Suraj went missing]. The court then ordered that the DNA test should go ahead,” the senior police officer quoted above added.
The DNA samples of Suraj and Seema were collected on 12 July. The samples have been sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Rohini.
Seema, meanwhile, maintained to ThePrint that she is sure the boy is not hers.
According to Seema, she had three children, including Suraj, with her first husband, Subhash Paswan. After he passed away, she became involved with Dass, but left him soon afterwards.
“Arjun was an alcoholic. He was ill. How could one live with him? So I left him and, to take revenge, he took away my son. I thought he would return the child but he didn’t,” Seema said.
Seema is currently married to a man named Mayank Prasad, and the police allege that he may have prompted her to disavow any connection with the child found by the police.
Prasad, however, claimed that he would be happy to have Suraj back, adding that the boy who was brought back from Rajasthan was someone else. “We want Suraj back. If we take this boy in, what if tomorrow his own parents turn up?” Prasad said.
As for the child, he has not said much on the matter, police sources told ThePrint. Because of his age when he was abducted and due to the experiences he may have endured, he has difficulties recalling where he came from.
He will continue to stay at an observation home in Delhi until the DNA results come back and there is more clarity.
This could take a while due to pendency at the lab, a source at FSL Rohini said.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)