Mumbai; In a nightmarish tragedy, three Class I children, including a brother-sister duo, aged between five and seven, suffocated to death inside an unlocked car in the Kalher area of the powerloom town of Bhiwandi.
The three were last seen playing on Wednesday around 11.30am in a building adjacent to a large godown for cars. The godown has a capacity to accommodate more than 100 vehicles. The three decided to enter the godown through an approximately 25-foot-wide opening in its compound wall. They then stepped inside an unlocked car. Once inside, though, the children did not know how to open its doors. Their bodies were found 13 hours later, in the wee hours of Thursday. There were marks on the dusty windowpanes, indicating that they had unsuccessfully struggled to break them open, investigating police officers told TOI.
The victim’s family demanded action against the godown’s owner saying if the compound wall had been properly constructed and if the car had been locked, the tragedy would have been averted.
The local Narpoli police have seized the car and registered a case against Sumit Malhotra, director of the car dealership, Global Gallery Agency Pvt Ltd, and Amit Sakpal, delivery checking executive in charge of managing the godown. Sakpal was arrested on Thursday.
The three kids-Rubi Maji (5), her brother Dilip Maji (7) and their friend Raj Soni (6)- were playing in Raj’s Ramchandra building. Raj’s mother Poonamdevi told TOI that around 11.30am on Wednesday her son went out to play with his friends. Around 12.15pm, she last heard his sound from her first-floor flat. After a while, she asked her elder daughter Sanjana (8) to call out to him.
Sanjana, though, returned around 1pm and told her mother that she could not find him. Poonamdevi then visited the Majis’ residence in a neighbourhood chawl, and found that their children, too, had not returned. Both mothers began to look for their kids.
“After three hours of relentless search, we called up their fathers at work,” said Uma, mother of the Maji kids. Fathers of both sets of kids are employed as handymen in private companies in Bhiwandi.
They rushed home and joined the search, and so did their neighbours. When all failed, they finally lodged a missing persons complaint with the police on Wednesday evening.
“Around 12.30am on Thursday, the police managed to trace our kids inside a car parked in the godown; at first sight, they seemed unconscious,” said an inconsolable Vinod Soni, Raj’s father. The police opened the car, which was unlocked, and rushed them to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, where they were declared “brought dead”.
M K Bhosale, deputy commissioner of police, Thane Zone 4, said, “We registered a case against the godown’s owner as primary investigations clearly show that the incident occurred due to the negligence of the godown owner. He had left an opening in its compound wall.” He further said the owner employed just two security guards for the rather large godown and that the guards kept a watch only at the front gate.
Coincidentally, the children’s fathers lived and worked alone in Bhiwandi for years. Both brought down their families to live with them three years ago, and both had enrolled their children in Marathi medium schools, though they are from Uttar Pradesh.