Family of Missing Teen With Autism Fear Son May Contract COVID-19
Missing teen Tarun Gupta (left); his parents holding a  poster of him (right).
Missing teen Tarun Gupta (left); his parents holding a poster of him (right).(Photo: The Quint)

Family of Missing Teen With Autism Fear Son May Contract COVID-19

As Indians remain confined to their homes as a precautionary measure during the coronavirus crisis, one Mumbai family is worried sick over the safety of their child.

Sixteen-year-old Tarun Gupta, who has been diagnosed with autism, has low vision and speech impairment, has been missing for the last six months. His parents have been forced to halt their search for him due to the nationwide lockdown, and worry that their child could contract coronavirus.

“Everybody in the house is crying and worried about him. Where is he? If he gets infected, he won’t be even able to tell anyone what happened to him. That’s what we fear the most.” 
Vinod Gupta, Tarun’s father 

Another worry that they share is whether their child has even received food over the last few days. “Coronavirus has forced the whole world to stay in their homes but my son Tarun is nowhere to be found. Initially, he was seen at various railway stations. Now, we are not able to trace him. Who will give him food and water? Earlier everything was open so he might have got something to eat. Where will he be now?” asks Tarun’s mother Asha Gupta.

Also Read : COVID-19: Suspension of Railway Services Extended Till 14 April

Always Sighted at Railway Stations

Tarun went missing from his home in Colaba on 1 October 2019. Swept up by the crowd while dancing at an election rally, he reached CST station and boarded a train. The RPF and state police are yet to find him.

Over the last six months, Tarun’s parents have received multiple tip-offs from people across Maharashtra, Goa and Gujarat who claim to have spotted their son. Every alleged sighting has been made at railway stations, such as Panvel and Sawantwadi in Maharashtra and Jamnagar in Gujarat.

The Guptas were informed of his whereabouts by auto rickshaw drivers who park their vehicles outside the station and railway staff. They feel that their son believes the only way back home is by train as he accidentally boarded one the day he went missing. They have since been following Tarun’s trail and visiting every station where he was sighted.

“I completed the search in Madhya Pradesh 15 days ago. Bhopal, Pina, Jhansi, till Bhusawal – I completed the search and then I headed towards Rajasthan and then the lockdown happened. Two of our people are still stuck in Amritsar where they were looking for him at the time when lockdown was imposed.”
Vinod Gupta

Also Read : Teen With Autism Missing Since Oct, Kin Alleges Police Negligence

‘Hopeful of Police Finding Him Due to Lockdown’

In an unprecedented move, the Indian Railways has suspended all train services till 14 April due to the coronavirus threat. With a passenger capacity of 23 million people, this standstill could be a massive financial blow. But to Tarun’s family, this move could end up being a blessing.

With no train to board and platforms empty, Tarun’s parents believe it could be easier for the authorities to trace their son.

“Our hopes are that, since the platforms are now empty and he has been sleeping on platforms, the police might find him during this lockdown. Or else, someone could take him to any NGO. So, our hopes are very high because he anyway won’t be able to travel.”
Vinod Gupta

Tracing Tarun’s Movements

The timeline pieced together through CCTV grabs and passenger accounts during police investigation revealed that the train Tarun boarded from CST station took him to Panvel in Navi Mumbai where he remained for two days, i.e. 1 and 2 October.

On 2 October, he was forcefully pushed into the luggage compartment of the Tutari Express by an RPF personnel when he asked for help. The train runs between Mumbai and Sawantwadi in Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra. An inquiry was ordered against the RPF employee.

Also Read : Five Months On, Mumbai Teen Boy With Autism Still Missing

Tarun was last spotted on CCTV footage recorded at Sawantwadi station near Goa. Since then, his parents have received many calls from people across Jamnagar in Gujarat and other parts of Maharashtra. But each time they reached the station where he had allegedly been spotted, he was nowhere to be found.

The Central and South Western Railway departments, Mumbai RPF division along with those of Pune, Bhusawal and Solapur, GRP Uttar Pradesh and Senior DSC RPF of Bhopal, have issued orders to look out for Tarun. But his family is yet to receive any information from them.

“Our family has broken down. We hope that he comes back, to his home. I don’t know where my son is. I request everybody to please help us find our son.”
Asha Gupta, Tarun’s mother 

Also Read : Railways Orders State RPF Teams to Find Missing Teen With Autism 

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