India’s missing daughters
New Delhi, India
By Mansi Thapliyal
Atika, 10, woke up early one morning in August 2008 and was sent by her mother to buy a few items from a nearby shop. She returned and told her mother she would prepare tea for her father before quickly going to use a communal toilet close to her house. She never returned.
Ambika was a feisty 15-year-old high school student who took wrestling classes. Her mother returned home from work late in the night on October 10, 2010. She woke up the next morning and found her daughter missing.
Atika and Ambika are among the thousands of children who go missing from India’s streets, schools and homes every year.
Following the case of a 5-year-old girl in Delhi who went missing and was then allegedly raped by a neighbor, I chose to find out what happens to girls who go missing and the struggles their parents go through to find them.
According to a report by Delhi-based child rights NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan, from January 1, 2013-April 20, 2013 there has been approximately 680 cases of missing children in Delhi, 65 percent of whom are girls. In most cases girls are either forced into the sex trade or trafficked to placement agencies to work as domestic workers.
For four days, I met parents of girls who had gone missing. Every story was different, every story was equally sad. I spent hours with them, listening to their harrowing tales, understanding the grief and misery these families were going through. Only then did I turn my camera on to take pictures. Despite retelling their stories again and again over many years to hundreds of people, the mothers I met still cried their eyes out for their missing daughters when they spoke to me.
The family of Tyaba, who went missing in Delhi at the age of three in 2009, have searched across the country, visiting adoption homes, red light districts and orphanages in all of India’s major cities.
Other families, however, simply don’t have the means to actively look for their missing daughters, like Mamta’s family from Bihar, India’s poorest state, who work in Delhi as laborers. They lost their seven-year-old daughter Bharti in April this year. Living on a construction site where they work, they earn around $4 a day and have to rely on the police, who have a reputation for being inactive and corrupt when handling such cases.
I found that parents were keeping memories of their missing daughters alive through the objects left behind. The mother of Atika, the 10-year-old who went missing in 2008, continues to stitch embroidery for her daughter’s “bistra” – a bedsheet gifted to Muslim brides on their wedding day – hoping that one day she’ll return.
Nothing can surpass the agony and desperation that has become their lives. The haunted looks on their faces speak of pain which is beyond all comprehension. I’m not sure if my pictures will bring these missing daughters back to their parents, but maybe they’ll make people stop and think about the next time they see a girl begging on the side of the street or a young maid working inside a home.
It’s time to stop being silent spectators and take steps in the right direction or else who knows if the nightmare might come knocking on our doors…