It was a regular day at the Bhandepatil household. They had shifted to their new bungalow in Shirwal, Satara, in Maharashtra and the furnishing work was still going on. Three-year-old Sanket was off to preschool and Suryakant, his father, was busy at his civil engineering business site. Pratibha, his mother, was setting up their newly built home, a process in which she took immense pleasure along with managing the job of being a primary teacher in a Zila Parishad (ZP) School.
This was going to be their lovely retreat, a spacious bungalow in a small village. Sanket would have adequate space to play every evening, and they would be far from their fast-paced city lives.
It was 12 in the afternoon, the time for Sanket to return from school — a little over his usual time, actually.
So Suryakant called Pratibha to ensure she had picked Sanket. “No,” came the reply, “I thought you picked him up.”
At two in the afternoon, they got a call on the landline from a stranger. Sanket was abducted, and the kidnappers were asking for a ransom of Rs. 1 lakh.
The Bhandepatil family was shocked and experienced mixed emotions of disbelief and denial. How could this happen in such a small, secure village? No, this can’t be true.
But it was true. Three-year-old Sanket was kidnapped after his school hours, and the only way to get him back was to fulfil the demands of the kidnappers.
Suryakant was ready to do anything. “I wanted my child back. That’s all I knew,” he says.
But this case would not end at one demand. For the next six months, Suryakant brought together all the resources at his disposal–reached out to friends, went to the police, strengthened his finances–to track down the kidnappers who still had Sanket in their custody. He waited patiently for them to contact him again, well prepared this time, to record the call and continue the conversation long enough to know the location of the call.
“I sat pillion with a policeman in civil clothes riding the bike,” Suryakant told TBI. “The kidnapper had told us the spot where we had to drop the bag of rupees 1,15,000. The spot was a few minutes from the main road. “I left the bag there, and we rode to a small hillock near the main road. When we returned to the spot after 3-4 minutes, the bag was gone.”
Even with a full-fledged plan in mind to surround the kidnapper when he collected his second ransom, the culprit fled the scene.
It took another kidnapping in Purandar, Pune, nearly a month and a half after the second ransom demand, for Suryakant and the police to get their hands on this kidnapper. He was a carpenter who worked in an office in Purandar and he had kidnapped two young boys within six months. What’s worse was that the carpenter had also worked at Suryakant’s office.
Through a wild goose chase of matching handwritings, extracting information from the neighbours of the kidnapper, entering his house during late hours and a thorough interrogation, the police was able to get a confession. Suryakant had finally caught the devil who had taken away his wonderful little son.
But it was too late–Sanket was already dead.
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To ensure that any other parents don’t go through a similar tragedy, Suryakant started Spy Sanket–a licensed private detective agency. He doesn’t charge a penny for the services he offers.
He doesn’t have a full-fledged team of professional detectives but relies on the determination of the family members of the victim. He believes that aggrieved family members could help capturing the culprits, as he had done when his son was taken from him.
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“Whenever I read about a case similar to Sanket’s, I approach the family,” says Suryakant. “Sometimes, they are happy to receive my help, sometimes too cautious or suspicious to accept it. When I begin the investigation, I ask them a lot of questions about the child’s schedule, what clothes they were wearing, family relations etc. There I find about 3-4 people who are very vocal about the information. These are usually the ones who help the actual investigation take speed.”
Having attended around 150 cases in the past nine years, Suryakant has also made a lot of friends who help him in the process. He has contacts in the police and media. He also receives help from his well-wishers and a big social network.
If needed, Suryakant testifies in courts, to bring justice to the families.
“What would I achieve if I sat at home and cried?” asks Suryakant. “I decided to pull up my socks and help others who may be in similar situations. Spy Sanket ensures that no other parent goes through what we underwent, 18 years ago.”
Suryakant wanted to thank each individual who helped in Sanket’s investigation. “But a mere thank you would not have been enough. So I thought of a different way to express my gratitude. I have always been a risk taker, so I channelled this quality in the investigation services.”
The Bhandepatil family shows us how to turn a grave tragedy into an inspiring tale. Suryakant and his son elder son, Saurabh, are record-holding swimmers. Within six months of Saurabh learning to swim, the father-son duo entered the Limca Book of Records in 36km, 57 km, 71km and 81km for open sea swimming.They claim it to be a world record for being the first father-son duo to do so.
The family has also recently entered the world records for swimming 5 km as a family of three (father, mother and son) from Sunk Rock Lighthouse to the Gateway of India in Mumbai.
Here’s giving more power to the family!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)