Telugu TV channels have been flooded since Thursday morning with videos of a charming 4-year-old boy called Jashith. He tells reporters that he is studying in UKG (Upper Kindergarten), and that he has 19 friends. It looks like a normal, playful day in the boy’s life, except it isn’t. Jashith has just returned home after being in the captivity of unknown persons for more than 60 hours.
The boy had gone missing on Monday evening, around 7 pm, when two men in masks attacked Jashith’s grandmother and abducted the boy on a bike. Since then, his mother Nagavalli has been in immense pain and agony, tormented with fear for her missing son. Police have been searching for him relentlessly, as Telugu media constantly reported on developments in the case.
Photographs of the boy were everywhere, making him a familiar face in the Telugu speaking states within two days. Nagavalli, who is eight months pregnant with her second child, was seen on TV weeping for her child. Finally, the boy was found near a brick kiln on Thursday morning, abandoned by his abductors, 8 km away from his home in Mandapeta.
Great news this morning !! Amid relentless media coverage and police serach, 4-year-old Jashith, kidnapped on Monday was released safely at Rayavaram. He was abducted by two masked men from his residence in Mandapeta town of East Godavari Dist. #AndhraPradesh pic.twitter.com/Gdyq4xOc4s— Aashish (@Ashi_IndiaToday) July 25, 2019
After the warm-up questions about his school and friends, a reporter asks him, “Who took you?” “His name is Raju,” Jashith says. His father and others around him laugh and say, “Raju is your friend’s name. They are asking about the kidnappers.” On being asked again, Jashith starts thinking about it. Someone can be heard saying, “It’s okay, he must be in shock.”
In another video, when reporters insist that he tell the names of the kidnappers, the boy playfully says, “I won’t tell you. I will only tell my friends.” He seems distracted by all the mics in front of him, trying to bite them or play with them as the reporters continue with their questions.
“I don’t know who they were. I don’t know how they took me,” he says. “They gave me idli and curd rice.” He also says that he was not scared, but he cried a lot, as his father Venkata Ramana holds him up in his arms so he can speak into the mics.
A brick kiln worker called Venkanna tells ABN that one of his co-workers who had stepped outside to relieve himself around 1 am found the boy being dropped off by a person on a bike. “The boy had not eaten anything. We gave him some milk, and he told us he had been taken away on a bike. We did not sleep after that. He kept playing with us till morning,” he says.
The workers informed their supervisor around 4 am, who rushed to the kiln. He tells ABN that he identified the child immediately since he had seen him on TV, and directly called the parents as their number was also in circulation. Another brick kiln worker says that the boy had been very playful, chatting with the workers and playing with them till his parents arrived.
The apartment complex in which Jashith’s family stays has been crowded with reporters, neighbours and well-wishers, all hoping for the boy’s return. As Jashith is taken home by his mother, people can be heard screaming, “Jashith, we love you.” As TV channels interview the people gathered outside the house, one person says, “This is a much more joyous occasion than if India had won the World Cup.”
In the middle of the celebrations and chaos, another neighbour, speaking to TV9, points out how the police and media played a crucial role in rescuing the child. “The police and the media, including reporters from newspapers and TV channels, have been here day and night ever since the boy went missing. They have been reporting and investigating as if their own child had gone missing,” he says.
The police have been conducting an extensive investigation since the boy went missing, with the East Godavari Superintendent of Police Adnan Nayeem Asmi forming seven teams, expanded to 17 teams to investigate the case. Police had found CCTV footage showing two men on a bike visiting the house, suspected to be conducting a recce, but this did not provide them with sufficient clues.
SP Adnan says, “The boy has given us some information about the identification of both the kidnappers and the place where he was kept. It might have been 15-20 km away from the place where he was kidnapped. It’s a small place, with a hall and a kitchen area. There were these two kidnappers, and a woman and a girl child with him”.
The SP says that there were no signs that he was hurt, and that he was well-fed by the abductors. “He didn’t show any signs of fear in the morning. He was very calm. He was speaking well without any fear,” he says.
“We are checking the entire area around where he was dropped. We think it is close to the place where he was kept,” he adds.
Police say that so far, they have not found any real motive. “There were no genuine calls for ransom. We received one call, which we pursued seriously but it was fake. We kept getting information from concerned people about similar looking children. Maybe the kidnappers were waiting for the media sensation and police investigation to come down so they could make a ransom call. But they couldn’t continue to keep the child for a long time. It is possible that the public alarm made them realise that they cannot continue to keep the boy for long, as they might be caught,” the SP says.
SP Adnan also commended the media for their continued coverage of the case. “For the past 3 days, reporters have constantly been present in Mandapeta, along with the police. Social media also helped to a large extent. The news had gone viral on Whatsapp. That’s how the brick kiln owner identified the child and knew whom to contact,” he says.
Nagavalli is still overwhelmed by the entire episode. “I couldn’t believe what was happening when he was kidnapped. Now that he is back, I don’t even know what to say,” she says to TV9, her face filled with relief and joy.