Jaipur: They were a pair of sisters, 16 and 17 years old, a lawyer’s daughters with good grades — but also with dreams of “entrepreneurship” on their minds. In February, the two escaped their school and took a train to Lucknow, 574 km away. It would be 56 days before they were found; they were now working with a private firm, selling pest repellents for a 15 per cent commission.
This is the story of their third and only successful attempt to flee their home in Jaipur, when they managed to evade being traced for nearly two months.
The girls made their move on 3 February, after their father, an advocate, dropped them off at school. They lied to their teachers that someone was unwell at home, and fled.
Their disappearance led to massive protests by lawyers, who demanded quick police action and a special investigation team (SIT) to trace them. The Jaipur Police formed seven teams and worked in tandem with the Lucknow Police. It was after an intense search and the scanning of 1,000 hours of CCTV footage that the girls were found.
From Jaipur to Lucknow
“In the morning, I dropped them off at school, but when they didn’t return, we panicked,” the 50-year-old father told ThePrint. The girls had switched off their phones, and after waiting for a while, the father lodged a complaint with the Mahesh Nagar police station under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 363 (punishment for kidnapping) and 366-A (procuration of minor girl).
The girls, meanwhile, were on a train to Lucknow, with around Rs 7,000 in cash and no contacts in the city — or even tickets. They were soon caught by the travelling ticket examiner (TTE), who fined them Rs 2,500.
When they reached Lucknow on 4 February, they got into an autorickshaw and made a call to a former Sanskrit teacher at their school, saying that their grandmother was unwell and asking for Rs 30,000.
The 70-year-old teacher immediately informed the school authorities and the police. However, before they could be traced, the girls changed their locations and again disappeared till 25 March.
But this call was the first ray of hope. The number was traced to Lucknow — their location was confirmed for the first time.
Speaking to ThePrint, DCP Jaipur (South) Mridul Kachawa said, “Once we received information that they were in Lucknow, we started deploying teams. The girls had switched off their mobiles and gone off on their free will, which is why they remained untraceable.”
Seven teams were formed, with more than 100 officers deployed in Lucknow, and additional forces sent to Delhi, Kanpur, and Kota.
Meanwhile, the sisters, who stayed as paying guests for four days while hunting for a job, soon found a hoarding seeking girls for sales jobs, and joined one of these projects. As part of the job, they were also provided accommodation by the company. “They would always cover their faces to evade identification,” their mother said.
Finally, on 25 March, the police recovered CCTV footage showing the girls, dated 15 March. After contacting local traders, the investigators zeroed in on Lucknow’s Gundwa area and found the Growup Group, the firm that was employing the sisters. The girls were finally identified on March 30.
Looking to widen their horizon
After their identities were confirmed, the sisters were brought back to Jaipur. But it took a lot of coaxing.
In their statements to the police, the girls said that they had run away to escape the “toxic” environment at home.
“They said that the environment in their house is not favourable for growth,” a senior police officer said.
The father had filed a civil writ (habeas corpus) petition before the Rajasthan High Court seeking custody of the girls.
In its order granting custody to the father, the court noted that the girls had gone of their own free will, and that the parents had then agreed to let them return to Lucknow. “The girls have stated that now their parents have agreed to fulfil their dreams and take them to Lucknow, where both the girls want to stay and work,” it observed.
“Petitioner has also assured the court that no misbehaviour or harm would be caused to the girls. On the assurance given by the petitioner, girls were handed over to petitioner,” the court said, appreciating the efforts made by the police in tracing them.
A teacher, her son, and the employer
The parents suspect that their daughters were manipulated by former teachers, including the 70-year-old, who they had contacted in Lucknow.
“They were brainwashed by the teacher. What is the entrepreneurship in this? They left their studies and went to sell pest repellents. They were being exploited there — it was a labour racket. Because they were young, they wouldn’t have more money and would ask fewer questions,” the father said, alleging that the teacher’s son was involved. However, DCP Kachawa denied these allegations.
Speaking to ThePrint, the 70-year-old teacher said, “I have over three decades of experience in teaching. During the lockdown, they were in touch with me. I have even helped them in Sanskrit. All teachers want their students to do great, and we tell them to aspire and be ambitious. That doesn’t mean we ask them to flee from their homes. When they contacted me I immediately told the police,” the teacher said.
On her son, the teacher said, “he is a 50-year-old man who has a 22-year-old daughter. He doesn’t even know them. He had gone to Riyadh for years and returned seven years ago. I am upset about my son’s name in all of this.”
Police confirmed that the girls were unharmed, and that they said that their employer had taken good care of them. “He was brought in from Lucknow and let off after interrogation. Nothing was found against him and the girls had also given statements favouring him,” the senior police officer said, adding that the police are still being cognisant of the employer.
Speaking to ThePrint, Suman Sharma, head of the Rajasthan State Commission for Women, said that the girls seemed to have been misguided by the internet. “They will be taken by their mother on 16 April to Lucknow. They have completed two months training there, out of the six months,” she said.
“The two girls are extremely ambitious but at the same time also have no understanding of ground reality. Excessive use of the internet and Google seem to have corrupted their minds,” Sharma claimed.
Third attempt, fake IDs
When ThePrint visited the girls’ house on 3 April, their parents said that they were studying for their exams in the room upstairs. They have two elder sisters — one is 25 and married, and the other is a 22-year-old Ayurveda student. They also have a 13-year-old younger brother.
The 22-year-old sister dismissed claims that their house is toxic and not a favourable place for growth. “The 16-year-old scored 96 per cent in class 10. The 17-year-old scored 93 per cent. If everything here is so negative and toxic, how did they manage such brilliant scores,” she asked.
According to the family, the 16-year-old had earlier aspired to become an IAS officer after appearing for the medical entrance test, NEET. The 17-year-old — who turned 18 Sunday — wanted to be a fashion designer.
Sources in Jaipur Police said that this was the third attempt the girls have made. “They had planned in October but it didn’t materialise. Again on 3 November, they went to the train station but didn’t board the train,” the officer said.
The girls, police said, had visited a temple before leaving for Lucknow. “They made chits with ‘Chennai’, ‘Mumbai’, and ‘Lucknow’ written on them, and then picked Lucknow. That’s how they decided where their destination would be,” DCP Kachawa said. He added that the girls searched for jobs online using fake social media accounts.
Asked if they had carried clothes, the mother said, “they had put one or two pairs of clothes in their backpack. We had no idea about their plan, the two are very close”.
The parents said that the daughters had never expressed their ambitions to become entrepreneurs to them.
Asked if the girls had apologised for their disappearance, the mother said, “Right now, they are in the rebellion zone. They think this sales training means setting up a business. We will take them to Lucknow and see for ourselves what all this is about”.
“We have given them their space,” the father said.
(Edited by Manoj Ramachandran)