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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 January 2007, 10:31 GMT
Grisly secrets of Delhi suburb sewer
By Mark Dummett
BBC News, Noida

Noida parents wait for news of their missing children

One of the most shocking things about the killings in the Delhi satellite town of Noida is how close the 17 young victims lived to the foul drain where their remains were stashed in sacks.

Most were the children of poor migrants from other parts of India, who share rooms in a maze of thatched huts and brick shanties known as Nithari village.

The grisly discovery of their skeletons on Friday was made in one of the streets of smart suburban villas that edge the slum.

The distance between where the children used to play, and where the police say they were raped, murdered, and hacked to pieces, is no more than 100 metres.

The owner of house D5, Mohinder Singh Pandher, and his servant Satish Kohli have been charged with the killings, but investigations are continuing.

The police have not yet established their motive, the total number of victims or whether they had any accomplices.

'Hushed up'

Jal Gopal helped dig the sacks out of the drain. He recognised his three-year-old nephew Harsh's sandals and clothes in one of them.

Iti Vishwas, whose daughter is missing
The big people can pay money to get their cases investigated properly. But they won't listen to us
Iti Vishwas,
Mother of missing girl

"He was playing near the house and disappeared all of a sudden. At the time we thought he must have just lost his way since he was such a young kid."

Harsh went missing nearly a year ago. Parents say that more than 30 children and young women from Nithari vanished in the past two years.

Like the others, Mr Gopal complains the police did not take his nephew's disappearance seriously, and is furious that they did not arrest the suspects earlier.

"We complained about those two men, who have now been arrested, six months back. A severed hand was discovered in that drain but the police wanted to hush up the case. They asked us not to tell anyone," he said.

Iti Vishwas's 11-year-old daughter Pushpa was also among the victims.

She went missing last May, but Mrs Vishwas believes the police did nothing to help because she is poor.

She comes originally from West Bengal in eastern India, and like most people in Nithari works as domestic servant for a rich neighbour.

"The big people can pay money to get their cases investigated properly. But they won't listen to us. They didn't listen to us," she says.

Phone clue

The people of Nithari's shock and grief boiled over into anger at the police earlier this week.

There was shocking inaction by the police in such an important case
Former police commissioner Ved Marwah

They also attacked Mr Pandher's house and that of his neighbour who is also being questioned.

Afterwards some policemen retaliated, and charged through the narrow alleys of the slum, beating men and women with their bamboo sticks, or lathis.

Senior officers deny they have mishandled the case because the victims were poor.

"This is not true. There were no clues, there was no suspicion regarding this person," superintendent of police for Noida city Saumitra Yadav said.

The investigation into the missing children took detectives to red light districts in Mumbai, Agra and other cities, he said, where it was suspected the children had been trafficked.

Onlookers watch a drain outside the house of one of the charged men, where human remains have been found
Human remains were also found in a drain

"Finally an adult girl went missing, and we got the clues through her mobile phone. Using electronic surveillance we caught the real culprit, and he spilled the beans."

Mr Yadav confirmed several policemen had been suspended following allegations they had accepted bribes, but said there was no proof this had happened.

According to a former commissioner of police, Ved Marwah, who is now a professor at New Delhi's Centre of Policy Research, it is more likely the police were careless rather than corrupt.

He believes they missed basic clues which allowed the crimes to go unchecked for two years.

"There was shocking inaction by the police in such an important case. The police in some states in our country are no longer functioning as a professional police force," he said.

Waiting for news

Children are once again playing in the streets near the house where their friends were killed.

But the atmosphere remains tense. There is a vigil of parents whose own children's fates are still unknown.

They hold scuffed photos of their loved ones and wait for news.

Noida is one of northern India's new boom towns, its economy driven by call centres and software companies.

But as the people of Nithari have discovered, it can be an awful place to be poor.

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29 Dec 06 |  South Asia

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