A Bharatiya Janata Party corporator from Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad and her husband’s desire to have a male child after 15 years of marriage has landed them in jail and lifted the lid off a thriving child trafficking racket in the State.
Vineeta Agarwal, 44, and her husband, Krishna Murari Agarwal, 51, were arrested on August 29 after the Government Railway Police (GRP) recovered from their house a seven-month-old child who had been kidnapped from a platform on Mathura railway station on August 24. The police said the couple had paid ₹1.80 lakh for the infant as they wanted to have a male child even though they had an adopted daughter.
The accused told the police that a doctor couple from Hathras — Dr. Prem Bihari, 38, and his wife Dr. Dayawati, 38 — ran a child trafficking racket and conned them into adopting a kidnapped child.
According to acquaintances of the Agarwals, the couple had been facing pressure to have a child since their marriage in 2007.
“The dream of having a child ended when Vineeta had a fall while dancing at a religious ceremony and had to undergo a hysterectomy. Left with no other option, the couple decided to adopt a child,” said a close relative of the couple. They then adopted a girl, but they still yearned for a son, the relative said.
‘Search for a brother’
“Vineeta and Krishna Murari loved their daughter, who wanted a brother who could tie her a ‘rakhi’. With the festival of Raksha Bandhan fast approaching, the couple decided to fulfil their daughter’s wish,” another relative said.
“Krishna Murari had heard of the doctor couple and approached them to adopt a son,” the relative said. The doctors then handed over a boy to Mr. Agarwal a week before Raksha Bandhan. However, during medical check-up, the Agarwals learnt that the child was extremely sick and returned him, the relative said.
“The doctors then called Vineeta on August 26 and gave her another boy,” the relative said.
Mr. Agarwal, a lawyer who practises in a local court, told the police that the doctor couple had introduced him to a man whom they claimed was the boy’s father.
The police, however, found it hard to believe that despite being a lawyer Mr. Agarwal thought that “buying a baby” was legal and he hadn’t committed a crime.
Mohammad Mustaque, Superintendent of Police, GRP (Agra), who had constituted a six-member team to solve the kidnapping case, said the doctor couple owned two hospitals in Hathras.
Apart from the Agarwals and the doctor couple, the police have arrested six others in the case: Deep Kumar, 40, who kidnapped the child, and Poonam Devi, 43, Manjeet, 43, and Vimlesh, 38, who worked as auxiliary nurse midwives (ANMs).
Mr. Mustaque said Mr. Kumar was nabbed after CCTV footage at Mathura railway station clearly showed him snatching the child, Sanjay, who was sleeping next to his mother, Radha, a resident of Parkham village in Mathura district. During interrogation, Mr. Kumar said that he had been a part of the child trafficking racket for the past four years.
The police said the doctor couple had invited about 1,000 ASHA workers, ANMs and Health Department employees for the inauguration of their hospitals and enlisted them to look for childless couples and those seeking a male child.
“They were also tasked with identifying unmarried women who got pregnant and failed to get an abortion. They would then buy babies from such women,” Mr. Mustaque said.
According to the police, the doctor couple has sold at least 12 kidnapped children over the past few years. The district administration has sealed the couple’s hospitals and the police are trying to trace the abducted children.
‘Wait for male heir’
Meanwhile, the residents of Katra Pathanan in Firozabad are of the opinion that the Agarwals deserve punishment.
“Their family has waited for years for a male heir. Mr. Agarwal’s brother already has two daughters... they wanted a son to take the family’s legacy forward,” said a man who owns a shop near the Agarwals’ home.
According to jail officials, Mr. Agarwal believes that “even if I am released, society will not let me live in peace. They will call me a ‘baccha chor (child lifter)’”.