Journalist Arita Sarkar hasn’t covered crime as a beat in any of the newspapers she has worked with. But as a reporter, she has always felt strongly about focussing on children as the victims since they are the most vulnerable members of the society. Her book, Kidnapped: True Stories of Abduction, Ransom and Revenge, documents ten cases of child abduction from across the country, highlighted by investigations by the police, eyewitness accounts and the perspectives of the accused.

The subject was suggested by her former reporting head at Mumbai Mirror, Hussain Zaidi, and during her research, she came across a variety of motives behind kidnapping a child – “I, however, wanted to study a specific kind of kidnapping cases and chose to focus on those that involved ransom or revenge,” she adds.

Kidnapping, Sarkar informs, is the rare kind of heinous crime where the child can still be rescued without being physically harmed. After interviewing more than 70 people, the author realised that there was a lesson to be learnt from each of the cases that could possibly help parents create a safer environment for their children.

“The cases that were selected for the book focussed on the outlier, those that stood out from the rest. I wanted to ensure that I was able to put together a narrative with information I gathered first hand from interviews with everyone relevant to the case. In cases where I couldn’t get in touch with all the parties involved, I had to drop it and look for another one. In order to find the best possible collection, several additions and deletions were made to the list of chapters before I found the cases that were complete and ready to be included in the book.

I wanted to ensure that I was able to put together a narrative with information I gathered first hand from interviews with everyone relevant to the case.

It took Sarkar several months to set up the interviews with the relevant people and this was the most time consuming part of the project. Since some of the cases were very old, many of the police officials had either been transferred to some other part of the state or had retired. But with the help of fellow journalists, she was able to find all the people she needed to speak to. Interviewing the parents who had to speak about their worst memories was tough. Even though some people needed a little more coaxing than the others, eventually, she says, everyone graciously came forward to share their experiences.

“Travelling alone in cities was another challenging part of the project. But I managed to find my way around. During my stay in Gujarat, I travelled 140 kilometres every day in a local bus between Ahmedabad and Nadiad to meet the people I had to interview. After the first rather overwhelming day, however, the long journey became a part of my daily routine for the next few days.”

With cases spanning from Mumbai to Hyderabad, Coimbatore to Howrah, the kidnappers that Sarkar wrote about were all first time offenders and most of them had no prior criminal records.

“Despite all their meticulous planning, they were amateurs and spooked easy. If the situation strayed even a little from their plan, they would get nervous and were then more likely to harm the victim. Another trend indicated that in such cases, the kidnapper is more likely to kill the child out of fear of later being identified by the police if they allow the child to go home alive,” she explains.

Despite all their meticulous planning, they were amateurs and spooked easy. If the situation strayed even a little from their plan, they would get nervous and were then more likely to harm the victim.

The author informs that in majority of kidnapping cases with ransom as the motive, the perpetrator is someone known to the family and who is aware of the child’s daily schedule, “Senior police officials from across the country suggest that parents should keep track of all the people who are regularly in touch with their child and they should treat such people well. If their child stays outdoors for a long period of time like going for tuition classes directly after school, parents can use RFID tags to keep track of their children’s movements. In case, any parent has to face the unfortunate situation where their child is kidnapped, they can learn from the experiences of others who have gone through it.”

Sarkar, who has been a reporter at The Hindu, Mumbai Mirror and the Indian Express and currently writes about civic issues, religious communities and heritage at Mid-Day feels that she had to unlearn a lot before she could figure out how to get her voice in the book.

“I had to figure out how to take an overwhelming amount of information to flow as a narrative with enough details to paint a picture that would tell a story for the reader. I tried to be as detailed and as balanced as possible. In order to give an accurate account, I have included transcripts of conversations between a kidnapper and a parent and have also mentioned any alternate theories about a particular aspect of a case.

I have always had an interest in cases of child sexual abuse and the taboo around it. I hope to be able to write more on the subject in the near future,” she concludes.

Image Credit: Penguin India/Arita Sarkar

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