At a time when WhatsApp is being used for spreading rumours about child lifting and provoking communal violence in Maharashtra, the state police has proved how the power of this social network could save lives if used with the right intention.
Nagpur’s Yashodhara Nagar police unit was able to reunite an abducted four-year-old with his family within hours, thanks to the platform.
The young boy, Mihir Jambhulkar, was playing in front of his residence at Rani Durgawati Chowk, after which he went missing. The neighbours told his family that an unidentified biker picked the boy and fled. The young child was found abandoned at Bhandara a day later.
When the shattered Jambhulkar family approached the police, the authorities followed the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and filed a kidnapping offence under IPC Section 363.
Wondering why a kidnapping case was filed and not a missing report?
This procedure has been put into place after the landmark Supreme Court judgment of Bachpan Bachao Andolan vs Union of India. According to this, if a person below 18 is reported missing, the police have to file a kidnapping offence immediately and relay the information and photograph of the child to all police units within their particular district and the state through a hue and cry notice.
The aim is to increase the gravity of the issue by filing an FIR and expedite the investigation.
And while the information is usually relayed through wireless, under the initiative of IPS officer, Harssh Poddar, the Nagpur, Aurangabad and Ahmednagar Police went one step ahead and incorporated WhatsApp for real-time coordination.
With a wireless message, there is always uncertainty if the other units have read the message or not, so they sent the details of the missing child with a photograph on several WhatsApp groups by 3.30 pm.
The missing information was also filed on trackthemissingchild.gov.in a central database for every missing child in India.
According to a report in The Times of India, Mihir was found at Gobarwahi near Tumsar in Bhandara district at about 5.30 pm, by a Prashant Waghmare, crying near a bathroom near the railway station.
The man thought the child belonged to his village and took him there. When he realised he wasn’t, he immediately rushed him to Gobarwahi Police Station. The cops too posted the kid’s photograph and details in various WhatsApp groups.
An alert cop in Nandanvan Police Station saw both the posts–one saying ‘child lost’ and another stating ‘child found’ from Yashodhara Nagar and Gobarwahi police stations. He immediately alerted the Yashodhara Nagar officials who rushed to Gobarwahi with their team. The child was successfully reunited with his family.
The accused in the kidnapping case was identified using CCTV footage. The police is out to arrest him.
This isn’t the first time the Maharashtra police used WhatsApp to solve a case. Speaking to The Better India, Harssh Poddar, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Nagpur under whose authority the Yashodhara police station functions, adds how the platform helped his team solve a blind murder in 2016.
Harssh who was leading the police subdivision of Aurangabad with other bordering subdivisions of Nashik and Ahmednagar had to probe a blind murder. A man was found in a closed warehouse in Aurangabad, stripped to his briefs with no identification marks, with a bullet in the head.
At a time when WhatsApp wasn’t as popular as it is today, Harssh came up with the idea of creating a closed WhatsApp group of officers from all three subdivisions. When the boy was found with no clue other than a brand of slippers.
When Harssh’s team circulated a picture of the man on the closed WhatsApp group officers, the Ahmednagar police reported that a man had been reported missing from Shirdi a week before the murder. Needless to say, the missing Shirdi man and the murder victim’s faces matched.
The man had been brought 100 km away from his hometown to be killed. The perpetrators presumed that police from Aurangabad wouldn’t recognise a body from Shirdi. But thanks to WhatsApp, the man was identified, and five people were arrested in the case.
“I find our experience with WhatsApp very paradoxical. We have faced instances in the past in Malegaon when the platform was used to spread fake rumours and provoke mob lynching. But fortunately, we were able to stop it. But again, in the above cases, it proved to be an incredible tool for investigation and real-time coordination. The conclusion is just that technology is value-neutral, but its use could be described metaphorically, like a knife. You could use a knife to feed a family or murder someone,” Harssh Poddar concludes.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)