'He took two apples and left with friends'

'He took two apples and left with friends'

An 11-year-old boy was among the 21 people who drowned in the Yamuna

Eleven-year-old Nitesh Kumar was among thousands of Ganesha devotees who thronged Sur Ghat in north Delhi's Wazirabad on idol immersion day. He also turned out to be among the 21 people who failed to return home on culmination of the 10-day festival. His body was fished out of  the Yamuna and handed over to his family three days later.

Nitesh, who hailed from Bihar’s Sitamarhi district, lived with parents and two siblings at New Chandrawal and was a class 7 student of a nearby government school.  On the fateful day, he had left home with two friends, Ravi and Raja, at around 2 pm. “Mindu told his mother that he would return soon, but did not inform that he would be visiting the ghat,” his father Lal Babu Singh tells Deccan Herald.

The three friends planned to be part of a local group organising a procession to immerse their idol at Sur Ghat. Raja now recalls that about 50 youths left for Wazirabad on a Tata 407 mini-truck and motorcycles. “The roads leading to the ghat were jam-packed, but we reached amid chants and celebrations.”

Raja says the ghat was overcrowded with thousands of devotees on both banks of the river, due to which many got separated from the group. Raja last saw his friend while he was taking a dip in the river. He left for home on his own.

Late in the evening, Nitesh’s family began to worry when he didn't return. They inquired with Ravi and Raja, and found that he had gone to the ghat. Lal Babu Singh says they decided to approach police when he did not return home even hours after Ravi and Raja did.

“We went to Roop Nagar police station, but our complaint was not taken seriously,” Singh says. It was only after they informed the deputy commissioner of police that a daily diary entry was made at the police station. By then the family had also launched a search operation of their own, and some of them went to the ghat. “We found Nitesh’s clothes and thought that he may have drowned in the river,” his uncle Kishan says. The family members requested local divers to search for the 11-year-old, but they refused, saying no child was seen drowning in the river.

“They told us to contact Timarpur police station saying that they will conduct a search operation only when asked by local police,” he said. Police were also immediately informed, but they too refused to file a complaint on mere suspicion. However, they initiated a search operation and gave orders to boatmen and divers.

“It lasted for hours, but Nitesh was not found,” Kishan says. The family was told that the chances of Nitesh returning alive diminished with every passing hour, but were promised that the body would be recovered if he had drowned.

Finally, three days after Nitesh was reported missing, his body was found three to four kilometres downstream. “No FIR was registered on the complaint as it was not a case of kidnapping. A missing person report was filed and the child was traced,” a police officer says.

Recalling the day, Nitesh’s mother says he had returned home from school after an exam at around 1.30 pm.  As was his routine, he asked for lunch. But it had not yet been prepared. Sushma offered him an apple, and he was watching television when Ravi and Raja came home.

“He took two apples and left with friends. I would not have allowed him to leave, if I knew that I would never get to see him again.”