The escape of a girl who was kidnapped 9 years ago

Pooja Gaud was kidnapped by a couple outside her school in the Indian city of Bombay

After nine long years, Pooja Gaud can finally rest on her mother’s lap.

Pooja disappeared on January 22, 2013, when she was seven years old. She says a couple caught her outside her school in the city of Mumbai in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

On August 4, she was found after what her mother describes as “a miraculous escape”. Now she is 16 years old.

“I lost hope of finding my daughter. But the gods were kind to me,” says her mother, Poonam Gaud.

Police claimed the girl was kidnapped by Harry D’Souza and his wife, Soni D’Souza, because the couple had no children.

Harry D’Souza was arrested.

Before disappearing, Pooja lived with her two brothers and her parents in a small house in a suburban slum.

The day she disappeared, she had gone to school with her older brother, but they had a fight and her brother walked into the school and left her behind because he was late. That’s when the couple promised to buy her an ice cream and took her away.

Since Pooja returned home, her neighbors have been coming to visit her.

Pooja says the couple initially took her to Goa and then Karnataka, states in western and southern India, and threatened to hurt her if she cried or drew attention.

She says she was allowed to attend school for a short time. However, after the couple had a child, they took her away and they all moved to Bombay.

Pooja says the abuse got worse after the baby was born.

“They beat me with a belt, kicked and punched me. Once they beat me with a roller so hard that my back started to bleed. They also made me do housework and work 12 to 24 hours outside the house.”

The house where the kidnappers lived was close to Pooja’s family, but she didn’t know the roads, she was always being watched, she didn’t have money or a phone, so asking for help was difficult.

ubut miraculous escape

One day, Pooja took the couple’s cell phone while they slept and wrote her name on YouTube. She found videos and posters mentioning her kidnapping and numbers she could call for help.

“That’s when I decided to ask for help and run away,” she says.

But it took seven months for her to work up the courage to discuss the matter with Pramila Devendra, 35, a domestic worker who worked in the same house where Pooja worked as a nanny.

Devendra immediately agreed to help her. One of the numbers on the missing poster belonged to Rafiq, a neighbor of Pooja’s mother. First, mother and daughter talked via video call, and then a meeting was arranged.

Her mother says she looked for a birthmark that only she knew existed on her daughter, and when she found it, she was filled with emotion. “All my doubts disappeared immediately. I knew I had found my daughter,” she said.

Devendra is happy to have been a part of this meeting. “Every mother should help a child who comes to ask for help. We may not be their birth mothers, but we are still mothers.”

Once reunited, Pooja, some relatives and Devendra went to the police station to file a complaint. “I told the police everything. I even told them where my kidnappers lived,” said the teenager.

Thanks to his story, the police were able to identify and arrest the accused.

Milind Kurde, Chief Inspector at Mumbai’s DN Nagar Police Station, told the BBC several cases had been registered against the accused – of kidnapping, threats, physical violence and violation of child labor laws.

love can everything

Pooja’s return home brought joy not only to her family, but to everyone who knew her. The neighbors who saw her when she was little are now going to visit her.

Meanwhile, her mother is trying to make up for lost time with her daughter by cooking her favorite meal and combing her hair. The family tries to spend as much time together as possible, but life at the moment is difficult for them.

Pooja’s father, who was the sole breadwinner of the family, died of cancer four months ago. So her mother started selling sandwiches at a train station to support her three children. But profits are meager and she struggles to survive.

“Now I also have legal expenses. Our condition is so precarious that if I miss a day of work, we won’t have money to eat the next day.”

Pooja is still processing her trauma. He has nightmares and feels sad that he will never be able to see his father again. For her safety, she spends most of her time at home or is accompanied by a family member when she goes out.

“I want to help my mother financially, but they won’t let me. I also want to study”, he says.

Despite these problems, the mother says she couldn’t be happier. “The work is exhausting, but every time I see Pooja, I find strength again. I’m so glad she’s back.”

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