Two Years On, Priya Kumari's Disappearance Remains Unsolved

The Sindh government has now formed a joint investigation team to trace the missing child

Two Years On, Priya Kumari's Disappearance Remains Unsolved

It has been nearly two years since a young Hindu girl, Priya Kumari, went missing while providing water and drinks to mourners of a Muharram procession in the Sukkur district. But it wasn't until the matter was raised again and a campaign began on social media that the provincial government jolted into action to trace her.

Raju Mal, seven-year-old Priya's father, recalled that, in keeping with their traditions of interfaith harmony, Priya was helping at a stall set up to provide water and drinks (Sabeel) to Muslim mourners participating in a procession on the eve of Ashura in Sangrar, Sukkur district of Sindh.

During the procession's commotion, Priya disappeared. 

Her disappearance prompted a frantic search from her family. When the larger community learnt of the child's disappearance, they all joined in. They formed small search parties and fanned out across the town in search of the child.

Raju Mal lodged an FIR at the nearby police station under sections 364 (kidnapping or abducting in order to murder) and 34 (acts done by several persons In furtherance of common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) against unidentified suspects. The police subsequently launched a formal investigation.

But as the search dragged on, it turned into protests. Members of Sindh's substantial Hindu community, civil rights activists, and various organisations came together to stage protests across Sindh, demanding action from the provincial government.

Meanwhile, the police kept giving Raju Mal, his family and the community false hopes. This added to the sorrows of the grief-stricken parents, who were already battling the shock of their daughter's disappearance. 

Over time, the disappearance of the seven-year-old child became a tired subject and the public lost interest. 

Last year, when the case of a minor housemaid's murder at the home of an influential religious figure from Ranipur came to light, some of the spotlights of that case also spilt onto the plight of Priya Kumari.

Videos of Priya's mother, old and new, appeared on social media, and some even went viral. All of the videos were largely the same: the beleaguered mother demanded, from behind teary eyes, the release of her precious daughter.

"We will leave Pakistan forever after Priya's safe return," she pleaded. 

This famous statement from Priya's mother triggered commotion across Sindh and a wave of massive public support and sympathies for the affected family. Once again, the child's abduction became the subject of street protests and public debates. But it all did no good for Priya Kumari, who remained unfound.

In recent months, however, the subject of Priya Kumari's disappearance has regained prominence and steadily captured the imagination of a growing number of people. This has turned up the heat for the newly-elected provincial government. So much so that this week, it was forced to form a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe the minor girl's disappearance.

The investigation team will consist of five members, led by Mirpurkhas DIG Javed Jiskani. It will also include Hyderabad SSP Amjad Shaikh, Shaheed Benazirabad SSP Tanveer Tunio, and two DSPs. The team has been tasked with submitting a report on the case within three weeks. 

Some local journalists suggest that influentials of her native Sangrar city could be involved in the abduction. However, the girl's father, Raju Mal, believes that the names suggested by some, including a local influential religious personality, have nothing to do with the matter and has instead helped his family find Priya Kumari.

Sindh police have a challenge before it. The force is underequipped to undertake an investigation of this scale amid what some describe as a surge in cases of child abduction and child abuse in the province, apart from surging crimes in the southern port city of Karachi.

The pressure on the police to trace the girl's whereabouts and ascertain what happened to her has increased after Indian media picked up on the case and presented it as a case of state-backed persecution of Hindu minorities. 

For the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), a successful and positive resolution of the case could cement its stature among the strong and influential Hindu community of the province and a feather for its first-time Home Minister, Ziaul Hassan Lanjar.

The author is a practicing lawyer and freelance journalist. His areas of interest are cultural diversity and socio-political issues of Sindh.