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Silence of the lambs

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Parents of kids whose bodies were found in the “house of horrors” are devastated and angry. They insist questions about an organ trade racket need to be answered

By Shantanu Guha Ray in Nithari, Noida


A near pauper Anil Halder sits expressionless on a slice of land close to Noida’s expensive golf course. He has flowers to sell, a rickety auto-rickshaw for company and a nightmare never far from his mind. Halder is the father of Rimpa, one of the first victims of the Nithari murders, India’s biggest reported case of organ trade coupled with streaks of cannibalism that made headlines on December 30, 2006. His house is two miles away from D-5, a single-storey home once described as “India’s House of Horror” in Noida’s obscure Nithari neighbourhood, which is full of ironmonger stores. A devastating fire in early October this year turned the dilapidated bungalow once again into a gawping destination for its neighbours, years after severed torsos, eyeless heads and rumors of cannibalism had turned it into a veritable hellhole.

Halder did not visit the home to see the raging blaze that destroyed D-5, a house once inhabited by Moninder Pandher and his
servant Surinder Koli, both accused in abduction, rape and murder of 17 children. Sitting close to his wife in his single room home, Halder remembers having spent a little over `15 lakh in court and lawyers’ fees, and smashing—in sheer disgust—Molotov cocktails on cars carrying local police officers. He is firmly reconciled to the fact that the poor get no justice in India. “I do not trust anyone, not even the Gods,” says Halder. Seconds later, he breaks down into a paroxysm of sobbing.

 

DEVASTATED FAMILIES

After Rimpa’s murder, Halder says he is lucky to be alive, and working. His wife, Dolly, is a chronic neurotic patient who has to be tied to bed during fits. Unable to face the trauma, one son has returned to their ancestral village in Bengal’s Nadia district, while another son, now in class XI, vividly remembers those nightmarish days and is unable to concentrate on his studies. He mostly spends time attending to his mother. “This is my life. And what I see is that Pandher, the main accused, is out on a bail, and the execution of Koli has been stayed again by a court in Allahabad,” says Halder.

In Mangrukhal village in Almora district of Uttarakhand, 68-year-old Kunti Devi, Koli’s mother, says she would let the law take its course. “If it is proved that he killed the children, he should be hanged. But I refused to give my thumb impression on his death petition after the President rejected his mercy plea. No mother can do it. I will not do it,” says Devi, who met Koli at Meerut Jail two months ago. The Koli family is in total disarray, with his brothers refusing to meet him either in jail or in court because of the social stigma.

Halder is not interested in Koli’s family. He is on the other side of the fence, a father of a murdered victim. He says he still thinks about everything that could have possibly happened to his daughter. If she had lived, she would have been studying and getting high marks in school, and then, in college. But she was murdered. Halder does not know how. He thinks and weeps silently. A helpless Rimpa could have been raped, then murdered, her body but-chered, some parts sold to organ doctors, and then, the leftover portions dumped.

“A strong sense of helplessness grips me, I have coped very poorly all these years,” says Halder, occasionally reminding that no one should knock his door at Nithari uninvited. “My wife will abuse, even kill you with a boti (a cutting instrument prevalent in Bengal).”

As per cases filed in various north Indian courts, 17 children were killed, possibly raped, and organs removed during 2005-2006 in Nithari. In some cases, it was alleged that both Koli and Pandher froze portions of the bodies and eventually cooked them for a meal. But the charges have not been proved in a court of law.

 

It is a living hell, so difficult because we will never know the answers. This case will drag on. We will never get a closure.
— Anil Halder, father of a victim



 

Halder, who continues to blame the cops for messing up the case with shoddy investigation —a charge proved by a Tehelka sting operation that confirmed that cops had accepted bribes from Pandher to destroy what could have been clinching evidence—says he does not believe the accused indulged in acts of cannibalism. “No parent believed that theory, only reporters from news channels did,” says Halder, convinced that the accused were into a thriving organ trade and required regular supplies of bodies.
Rimpa was 14 when she vanished. She was studious and left home for a tuition, never to return. He searched for her everywhere, returning home tired and dejected every evening. By that time, a few more boys and girls had disappeared from the neighborhood.
Like the winter smog that hangs over north India, a pall of gloom hung over Nithari for nearly a year. Where are our children, everyone asked? Hired soothsayers filled their own pockets with cash and did some ritualistic mumbo jumbo. Some parents even went to the venera-ted shrine of Vaishno Devi and sought blessings from the cave goddess. But the end result was blank. The wait was getting long and was very, very frustrating.

Then, one morning, all the parents gathered together and spent three hours taking a head count of Nithari’s missing children. They calculated 35. Many shuddered at the thought of them being trafficked, even as the women wailed inconsolably. On December 29, 2006, Halder accompanied cops who had traced the handset of another missing teenager. It led them to D-5, Pandher’s home that—ironically—was next to that of a lawyer. The house had nicely decorated rooms. The cops found nothing except cartoons of expensive whisky. The fridge was stuffed with marinated fish and chicken; it seemed the owner had a party a day.

 

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Moninder Singh Pandher(featured image) and Surinder Koli. Large number of human body parts of missing kids of Nithari were found from Pandher’s bungalow in NOIDA, sparkingsuspicion of cannibalism, besides organ trade

 

DREADED DISCOVERY

And then, a cop said he found something inside a huge dustbin on the roof: a few severed heads, including one of the last girl who went missing. Rimpa’s clothes, crumpled in a trunk, were also found on the roof. Halder then fainted on seeing something else: blood-stained bangles worn by Rimpa. He then found her clothes. DNA test of the blood samples eventually confirmed what he dreaded: they were Rimpa’s bangles. Horror engulfed Halder’s home without warning. “I knew she was gone. My world crashed,” says the tormented father. Every day, when he drives his auto-rickshaw past the dilapidated house of Pandher, now covered with wild shrubs and bushes, Halder calls it Bhibhishikar Baari or House of Horrors.

 

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Jhabbu Lal and his wife Sarita, whose daughter’s remains were recovered from the terrace of D-5




 

“I wanted to know what he did to my daughter,” says Halder. He thinks about Rimpa every day; it’s a nightmare that never goes away. “It is a living hell, so difficult because we will never know the answers. This case will drag on. Despite what other people say, we will never get a closure,” he says helplessly.

 

WAITING FOR JUSTICE

Since those horrifying days, normalcy has somewhat returned to Nithari. Working under a makeshift shaft that guards him from the heat and rains, Jhabbu Lal, a presswallah, says he is hoping against hope to get justice in the case. Like Halder, he too lost his daughter, Jyoti, to the House of Horrors. If she had lived, she would have studied to be a doctor and worked among the poorest of the poor.

Lal remembers the night a raging blaze destroyed D-5. He desperately wanted to make sense of the blaze. It seemed to him that someone was trying to destroy what could be “crucial evidence hidden under the floor of the house”. To him, the house had not lost its notoriety and could offer more answers. “I was out of my senses. It seemed to me that Pandher and Koli were sitting there and sipping my daughter’s blood to gain immortality,” says Lal. Sarita Devi, his wife, says, “My husband still believes our daughter is there, somewhere under the floorboards.”

Pandher is out on bail, probably on pilgrimage across India. And in faraway Allahabad, a court stayed the execution of Koli, his petition already rejected by the Supreme Court. The trials, arguably, have been sensational. Troubled by shoddy investigation by the police in Nithari, the UP government on January 3, 2007, dismissed six police personnel and suspended three senior officers. Those suspended that time were SSP Piyush Mordia, who was SSP Noida, ASP Saumitra Yadav and Circle Officer Sewak Ram Yadav. Also dismissed were former chowki in-charges at Nithari—Rajvir Baliyan, Kamarpal Singh, Vinod Pandey and Simranjit Kaur. Two station house officers at Noida’s Sector 20, RN Singh Yadav and Deepak Chaturvedi, also were sacked.
Worse, a Tehelka-Star News investigation showed cops messing up the case after taking bribes, some as low as `3,00,000 per police officer, from Pandher.

 

CBI CLEAN CHIT

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which also probed the case, gave Pandher a clean chit before applications filed by an intrepid lawyer, Khalid Khan, turned on the heat and pushed him behind bars. The flip-flop in the courts troubled many, especially those who had lost their children.

Lal remembers being told that Jyoti probably walked into Pandher’s home to see the team of doctors and nurses who would visit D-5 every second day. “Jyoti would also tell me that she wanted to be a doctor and treat the poor. And then, one day, she was lost. Hanging the two will stop the case midway, what about those who were a part of this organ trade?” asks Lal, as wife Sunita watches.
Lal says that clothes from Pandher’s home would always have bloodstains. When asked, Koli said those were stains of chicken blood because Pandher stood close to the butcher when he cut the birds. “We never bothered. We cleaned the stains with water and ironed the clothes,” says Devi.

Fear gripped Lal and his wife when Jyoti went missing. Then, one day, he went with the police team to Pandher’s home and accompanied the constable to the terrace. What he saw will live with him till his dying day: boxes of choppers and knives of all sizes wrapped in bandages seen in a doctor’s clinic. And two dustbins of severed heads and body parts.
“None of the severed heads had eyes. Limbs and arms were missing from the bodies, so were kidneys and livers. Only two portions of the body were there: the head and the torso. It was a horrible, horrible sight,” says Lal.

 

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A fire gutted Pandher’s bungalow, the scene of crime, in October this year

 

MANY QUESTIONS

Lal says he almost killed Koli and Pandher when he saw them in the courtroom. The first day of the trial, he stood close to the accused. “If we had done that, it would have been poetic justice. But now, we wish to know why he killed the children? Who sought their organs?” says Lal.

There are others who believe Koli’s hanging, if it goes through, will not bring closure to the case. Questions will remain, especially those relating to the big, organ racket. “I have a feeling we will get nothing out of the judgment. If the two are hanged, they will take their silence with them, without answering who they were supplying the organs to,” says Dil Bahadur, whose daughter, Kamla, went missing. Parts of her body were eventually found in D-5.

Where is justice for the poor, wails Bahadur, pointing out that 15 Nithari killing cases have been pending for a little over seven years. “I want to know who got my daughter’s eyes, kidneys and liver. I want to know why the CBI gave a clean chit to Pandher. Will the poor never have a voice,” Bahadur asks plaintively.

The CBI, which had pointed to a range of suspected motives—from child pornography and child prostitution to organ trafficking, black magic, necrophilia and cannibalism—in the 16 cases registered against Koli, has no answer.
Darkness has descended in Nithari. Halder has returned home. He has one more fear, a fairly valid one: If Koli is hanged, what will happen to the 15 cases still pending against him? Eleven are in the trial court and four at the appeal stage in high court. “A crucial witness will no longer be available,” he says.

HAND-IN-GLOVE

Also, the drains along D-5, meant to be cleaned by the civic body, were not cleaned. Halder claims that Koli and Pandher routinely bribed the sweepers, who turned their vans away, a fact corroborated by an expert committee of bureaucrats formed by the Ministry of Woman and Child. “The nallah in front and back of the house are not very deep and have stagnant water. It was not cleaned for a very long time by the civic authorities,” cited the report.

But no one took notice. The UP police and the CBI ignored the findings. The courts—expectedly—followed the same course. “It seemed to me that everyone was trying to erase the importance of such vital findings. How come we do not hear about Maya Sarcar, the maid who worked at D-5 for a little over seven years,” asks Halder.

He has a point. A vital cog in the wheels of Nithari investigations, Sarcar was let off by the UP police and eventually, by the CBI. The expert committee was aghast: “The interrogation made by UP police of the maidservant of the house, Maya Sarcar, needs to be looked into for revelations into the activities of the accused.” Still, no one tracked her.

 

“I want to know who got my daughter’s eyes, kidneys and liver? I want to know why the CBI gave a clean chit to Pandher? Will the poor never have a voice?”
—Dil Bahadur, father of Kamla, whose body was found in Pandher’s house.

 

Halder also has a new worry. Children in Khora Colony (Sector 62-A, Noida) still go missing and the police avoid registering complaints. In the last two years, seven children have vanished. Have the organ doctors found a new Nithari? No one has an answer.

The organ trade angle is one of the main points raised by the expert committee too.
“It seems that the unsolved cases were quickly attributed to Koli and the number of killings done by him was increased from 11 to 17 to account for the unsolved cases of missing children,” the report said. No one has time to read it, the findings are now gathering dust in some rickety cupboard.

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