Over 36,000 Missing Women 'Untraced' So Far in Madhya Pradesh, Second Highest in Country After Bengal
Image credit: India Posts English
Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh, which made the controversial film The Kerala Story tax-free on May 6 in a bid to create awareness against “Love Jihad”, conversion, and radicalisation, has the record of second highest cases of missing women in the country after West Bengal.
According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) 2021 report, the state has failed to track down 36,104 missing women including 2,830 minor girls so far. With 40,719 victims, West Bengal tops the index of missing women in India.
The controversial film The Kerala Story – accused of distorting figures and peddling hate – was endorsed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Karnataka election campaign. According to the filmmakers, the movie is a compilation of stories of three young girls who were allegedly systematically converted, radicalised, and their lives were destroyed.
The filmmakers who earlier claimed it was a story of 32,000 women missing from Kerala, reduced it to three after the Kerala government rebuffed their claims. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in a strong statement termed it a fake story, which is "the product of the Sangh Parivar's (RSS) lie factory to spread their propaganda."
After the PM's statement, the film was made tax-free in BJP-ruled states while it's facing pushback from non-BJP-ruled states. The Madhya Pradesh government which exempted the tax for a month withdrew it within five days triggering controversy. It was restored after the political backlash.
A day after the film was released on May 6, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said, “The film shows how the (life of) daughters who get entangled in the trap of love jihad get destroyed. The film also exposes the design of terrorism and conversation."
In a video message released for the media, he further said, “While we have already brought a law against (forced) conversion, the film creates awareness about the issue. This film should be watched by parents, children, and girls. That's why the Madhya Pradesh government is declaring the film tax-free," he added.
The four-term chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan's announcement came at a time when 25,209 minors have been reported missing between 2019 to 2021 in the state. Of them, 2,830 minor girls can't be traced or recovered by the police. It includes overall untraced cases from previous years. With this, Madhya Pradesh became the third state (excluding the union territory of Delhi) with the highest cases of missing girl children after Bihar and West Bengal. In Bihar, 5,366 minors can't be traced after they were reported missing. And with 5,609 cases, West Bengal tops the chart according to the NCRB.
As far as cases of missing women are concerned, between 2019 to 2021 in Madhya Pradesh, as many as 99,119 women reported missing. With the recovery rate fluctuating between 47% to 51%, the state recovered over half of the missing women while 33,274 couldn't be traced or recovered, the report reveals.
In the same period, Kerala, in which the film was made, reported 24,258 missing cases. It includes 2,837 cases of missing girl children.
With over 90% of recovery rate, according to the NCRB data, the Kerala police retrieved the majority of the missing women and minor girls. As of 2021, the state has 366 women and 32 untraced minors, unlike Madhya Pradesh which has over 36,000 untraced females or minors.
Making a sharp comment over CM's statement, Safiya Akhtar, state convenor of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, said, "By making The Kerala Story tax-free, the chief minister is trying to claim that Love Jihad, conversion or terrorism are the reasons behind the high rise in the cases of missing or untraced women when there is no data to support his wild claims."
Akhtar, who fiercely led the fight against Triple Talaq further said, "When there is no data which can specify the socio-economic condition, caste or religion of missing women, how can the chief minister of the state blame a community for the social crimes? Since Madhya Pradesh became the most unsafe state for women in the country in his 16-17 years of tenure, he is putting the blame on a particular community, clearly, for political gains."
Apart from Kerala, Madhya Pradesh is way behind Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, and Rajasthan when it comes to the retrieval of missing women or minors.
Elaborating on the close linkage between missing girl children to organised crimes, Puja Marwaha, CEO of Child Rights and You (CRY), said, “It is deeply disturbing that our children go missing and we can’t bring them back home. The evidence on the ground and numbers indicate that a large number of missing children are actually trafficked, kidnapped, abducted or for other reasons.”
“Child abduction and trafficking is growing in particular states because of two equally powerful forces – the supply chain of victims fed by extreme poverty, and the demand for dirty, difficult and dangerous services that provide the economic impetus for middlemen and traffickers to thrive,” she added.
To understand the government's point of view on the subject, NewsClick reached out to Richa Shrivastava, ADG, Crime Against Women of Madhya Pradesh Police.
She explained, "To cut down the growing cases of missing persons, MP Police in 2021 launched ‘Operation Muskan’ to retrieve missing women and minors. With a recovery rate of over 60%, we have tracked down 9,329 victims in five phases of the operation which will intensify in future. Our recovery rate in minor missing cases surged to 78% in 2021."
She added, “Apart from the recovery, in many of the resolved missing cases, the parents did not inform the police when the children returned, but police count them as live cases and those pile up at the police stations. Hundreds of such cases of similar nature were resolved under Operation Muskan. Besides, in cases of minor girls, the police have to lodge FIRs under POCSO Act which later turns out to be something else.”
She also claimed that the Madhya Pradesh Police have also roped in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Good Governance and Policy Analysis to look into the pattern and objectives of missing or trafficking cases in 2021. The study will also focus on police behaviour in dealing with the cases of missing, kidnapping, elopement, and trafficking.
According to CRY’s status report on missing children, between 2017 to 2021, 36,890 minor girls were reported missing in Madhya Pradesh. The well-known NGO which works for child rights has sourced the data from the RTIs.
Commenting on the alarming situation of crimes against children in Madhya Pradesh, Regional director of CRY, Soha Moitra, said “On an average 25 cases of kidnapping and abduction, around 17 cases of sexual exploitation under POCSO and overall 52 cases of crimes against children were registered in the state every day in 2021. The decadal analysis (2011-2021) of crimes against children sheds light on the massive rise of 337% in cases of crime against children in the state."
Stressing the need for strengthening the infrastructure, she said, "Rising cases of missing children during the COVID-19 lockdowns indicate that the proactive measures taken by different departments to curb the cases are not helping. The need of the hour is to focus more on strengthening the child protection system both in urban setups as well as via village level child protection committees (VLCPCs) to ensure a robust mechanism of vigilance at the ground level.”
Controversy over 'The Kerala Story'
A day before the film’s release, Kerala Government called The Kerala Story part of the propaganda of the RSS “lie factory” and rebuked it. Two days later, on May 6, the Madhya Pradesh government made it tax-free, asking parents, girls, and children to watch the 'A' rated film in a bid to create awareness. Subsequently, the BJP-ruled states – Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana – have also given similar exemptions for the movie.
In the meantime, Tamil Nadu Multiplex Association, on May 7 announced that it would stop screening of the film in the state, citing fear of protests and poor audience turnout.
Going a step further, the following day, West Bengal announced a ban on the film in a bid "to maintain peace in the state" and avoid incidents of hate crime and violence. Interestingly, the state has the highest cases of missing children and women according to the NCRB report.
Calling it a "distorting" film, CM Mamta Banerjee said: "Why did they make Kashmir Files? To humiliate one section. What are these Kerala files? If they can prepare Kashmir files to condemn the Kashmiri people... now they are defaming Kerala also. Every day, they are defaming through their narratives."
These statements came in reply to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's statement during the campaigning in Karnataka. Addressing a rally in Ballari last week, he said, “The Kerala Story is trying to expose the consequences of terrorism in society, especially in a state like Kerala which is a beautiful land of hardworking, talented, and intelligent people. The Congress party is now trying to ban the film and support the terror elements."
Out of the four BJP-ruled states which exempted taxes, the Madhya Pradesh government did a backflip four days after the announcement and withdrew the order issued on May 6.
After the news of withdrawal hit the headlines, the following day, state Home Minister Narottam Mishra said that the movie continues to be tax-free in the state. But the Madhya Pradesh Cinema Association secretary Azizuddin told NewsClick that they will collect tax for the screening of the movie as per the order issued by the government on May 9-10, until further written order to the contrary comes.
Despite several attempts by NewsClick, no official confirmation or denial came from the state government, Commercial Tax Department or from the ruling BJP leaders. However, sources had said that the tax exemption was withdrawn as the movie has an ‘A’ certificate from the censor board (Central Board of Film Certification) and while announcing the film to have been made tax-free, CM Chouhan appealed to the children to watch the adult movie.
Opposition Congress alleged that after biting the dust over the withdrawal of the tax-free order, the government is manipulating the facts in a bid to create confusion to hide the fact that the BJP-ruled government is promoting a movie with an 'A' certificate and asking children to watch it.
Congress state media in-charge KK Mishra said, "Either the Commercial Tax Department's withdrawal order is fake or the Home Minister is lying. Both can't be true. The one who is lying should be booked. The government should come out with a written clarification on the issue."
Congress also questioned the silence of government officials over the issue.
Taking a jibe at the Home Minister, KK Mishra said, “Actually, the home minister of Madhya Pradesh has ceased to be a home minister and become a film reviewer. Rather than paying attention to the deteriorating law and order situation in the state, he always focuses on movies and bikinis.”
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