(This story was originally published on 1 August. It has been republished from The Quint's archives after an Ernakulam sessions court awarded death penalty to Asfaq Alam for the rape and murder of the five-year-old girl.)
(Trigger Warning: Descriptions of violence, sexual assault. Reader discretion advised.)
"Do you know what her favourite subjects were? Malayalam and English. She spoke better Malayalam than I ever did," 27-year-old Meera (name changed to protect identity), mother of a five-year-old girl from Bihar, who was brutally sexually assaulted and murdered in Aluva, in Kerala's Ernakulam district, told The Quint.
Meera's daughter – the second of her four children – was abducted at around 3 pm on Friday, 28 July, allegedly by her neighbour, Asfaq Alam, a migrant worker from Bihar, who reportedly has a criminal history.
Based on a missing person complaint, Alam, aged 29, was picked up by the police on Friday night, but "as he was heavily inebriated, the police could not get anything out of him," an official from the Aluva East Police Station told The Quint.
The police found the child's body inside a sack at Aluva Market on Saturday, 29 July – nearly 21 hours after she was abducted. It was later confirmed that the girl was sexually assaulted and strangled to death, the police official said.
The police have booked Alam under sections 302 (murder), 375 (rape), and relevant sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday, 1 August, Ernakulam Rural Superintendent of Police, Vivek Kumar, said that Alam was jailed for a month in another POCSO case for allegedly molesting a 10-year-old girl in Uttar Pradesh's Ghazipur in 2018.
"Ghazipur police in Uttar Pradesh had registered a case against him. Asfaq was jailed for a month. But he went absconding after obtaining bail in the case," SP Vivek Kumar said, as per news agency PTI.
'We Were Happy Here'
Sitting on the floor of their rented 1BHK home in a nondescript village in Aluva, Meera's husband Ashok (name changed to protect identity), aged 34, told The Quint, "We have been living in this house for three years now. Despite our difficulties, we were happy. We never thought of moving out or going back home. This was our home. We had trust – a trust that has now been broken..."
Meera and Ashok, who hail from Gopalganj in Bihar, have been living in Kerala for the past eight years. While Ashok works as a gypsum ceiling worker, Meera takes up cleaning jobs in nearby houses once in a while.
The family pays Rs 5,500 for the rented home, which is located in a rundown building where three other families live.
The couple's first child, a girl aged seven, was born in Bihar. The others, including the five-year-old, were all born in Kerala. Their third daughter is four, and the youngest, a boy, is two.
"We hardly went back home. We had to leave during the COVID lockdown, but we came back. We were building our life here," Meera said, as she stared blankly at the pale yellow wall of her home.
The five-year-old was a Class 1 student at the same school as her elder sister. "She loved going to school. Even when it's a holiday, she would tell me she wants to go," Meera told The Quint.
"She comes back from school at 4:30 pm, and then she would take a shower. After the shower, she would come to me saying, 'Mummy mummy, kaajal lagao. Mummy, powder lagao.' And then she would run out to play nearby."
What Happened on That Fateful Day?
On Friday afternoon, Meera was out drying clothes with her two daughters, the five-year-old and the four-year-old. She went in to take a shower while the children stepped out to play.
But when Meera got back from her shower and asked her daughter where her sister was, she said that she "had gone to buy juice."
Meera began looking for her daughter around the building and the neighbouring houses but she was nowhere to be found. Her husband was away at work. As she asked around, a man at a neighbouring chicken shop said he saw Alam take her daughter towards the riverside.
As per the family and the neighbours, Alam moved to the building next to where the family lives just three days ago.
Meera alerted her house owner, and they both went looking for her daughter in Aluva. A missing person complaint was filed at 7 pm on the same day at the Aluva East Police Station, as per the FIR accessed by The Quint.
Purported CCTV visuals from the area showed Alam crossing a highway with the girl and boarding a bus that was heading towards Thrissur (a neighbouring district).
"Based on CCTV footage, Alam was picked up at around 9 pm near Thottakkattukara. He was highly inebriated and the child was not with him. We questioned him but he was not making any sense," the police official said.
On Saturday morning, Alam told the police that he had abducted the child, and his arrest was recorded at 11.30 am under Section 363 (kidnapping) of the Indian Penal Code.
The police, however, could not ascertain the whereabouts of the child. They put out a lookout notice with the CCTV visual on social media. As the missing case gained traction, a witness informed the police that he saw Alam with the child at Aluva Market.
Speaking to the media, the witness, a local trade union worker, said: "I asked him about the girl. He said she was his child and that he was going behind the market area to consume alcohol."
"But when I saw the CCTV visuals of the missing child and Alam on social media today morning [Saturday], I informed the police," he said.
The girl's body was found at a garbage dump in the Aluva Market. As per Manorama News, she had injuries to her face, head, and genitals. The accused reportedly strangled her with a thread and hit her head with a stone.
Her body was sent to the Kalamassery Medical College for a post-mortem examination, after which it was placed in the school she studied in for members of the public to pay homage. She was buried at a public crematorium in Aluva on Sunday.
Kerala Minister for Women and Child Development (WCD) Veena George on Monday said that an immediate relief of Rs 1 lakh has been sanctioned for the family of the deceased girl.
'We Want Him To Get the Harshest Punishment...''
"Ministers have come and gone. Officials have come and gone. People have offered us help and money. We are thankful. But will that bring our child back," asked Ashok, wearing a worn-out tshirt and trousers.
The five-year-old's death has created a massive outrage in Kerala, with many pointing fingers at the police for not acting sooner.
After the child's body was recovered, the Kerala Police, in a Facebook post, wrote: "Dear child, we are sorry." A Special Investigation Team (SIT) led by the Ernakulam Rural Deputy Superintendent of Police (DySP) is probing the case. The accused is currently in 14-day judicial custody. The Quint tried to reach out to DySP but he was unavailable for comment.
Meanwhile, a police official said that they are looking into the possible involvement of more people in the case.
As Ashok sat down to speak to The Quint, a neighbour suggested he wear a pair of jeans and a shirt as "ministers might visit soon."
"Where's the money for jeans and shirt? Ithu mathi (this is enough)," he told her in Malayalam.
Ashok said what his family needs right now is safety and security. "Kerala has been good to me. There was no issue with the people here. This is home to our children. We don't want to go back to Bihar, but we need safety. Our children deserve safety," he said.
"We want the culprits to get the harshest punishment," he said.