The police use the “others” provision to treat such cases as later they can be altered into a murder or kidnap or Pocso case depending upon what the investigation leads to.
While a complaint was registered online, Mugilan's family and other activists filed an habeas corpus petition at the Madras High Court citing police inaction. Although the case was later handed over to CB-CID, a video of Mugilan shouting slogans at Tirupathi railway station surfaced this month after which CB-CID police took custody of him and remanded him in connection another case. The state police’s lack of information about Mugilan’s whereabouts raised a suspicion whether the police had made any efforts to trace him at all despite the pressure from activists.
The suspicion grew stronger owing to an unrelated incident reported in the city in which the body of an elderly man was declared unclaimed by the police and later buried. The man had incidentally been reported missing a month before his body was found in the locality.
The police blamed the incident on a 'small communication gap'. Besides, the Madras High Court had recently raised questions on how the police have been dealing with 'missing-person' complaints when there is no provision or Act to book such cases.
When DT Next spoke to a few city police officers, they claimed that they do not take missing people complaints lightly. "It is true that there is no section or Act to book cases on missing people, but we book such cases under the provision called 'others' and register first information reports (FIR). Maybe, later the case could be altered into a murder or kidnap or Pocso depending on where the investigation leads us to,” said an inspector.
“At least in Tamil Nadu, we have this provision, but in other states police just enter such complaints on something called General Diary (GD). They will collect information about the missing persons, but no FIR is registered," he added. The officer also admitted that state police register FIR because people in Tamil Nadu are more aware of options like habeas corpus petitions compared to other states.
What happens after lodging a complaint
The police say the inputs from the complainants help them to arrive at a conclusion whether it was a kidnap or whether the person took off on his own. The person's physical characteristics such as the height, complexion, whether the person was physically and mentally challenged, the colour of the dress last seen on them, and who they were seen with along with other details are shared with the police control room and are communicated to all the police station through their wireless communication.
An Assistant Commissioner said on the condition of anonymity, “The photos of the missing persons with their personal details are shared in WhatsApp groups in all four zones in Chennai at first and then to other districts subsequently. It is shared with Crime Records Bureau in the city and district crime records bureau in other parts of the state. While their photos are flashed on TV, CCTNS website will also flash information on the missing people.”
While police say that special teams are formed to track if a child goes missing, they admit that they have difficulty if a senior citizen or a mentally challenged person is lost. "There is an increased awareness about child trafficking and there are central government websites such as National Tracking System for Missing & Vulnerable Children to track if missing child has been rescued elsewhere in the country. When missing child is rescued within the state and admitted at a home, it is communicated to the probation officer concerned and they will check with police. If the identities match, the child will be handed over to the parents. If the parents themselves had abandoned the child, it will be allowed in the home itself,” said the Assistant Commissioner.
But when a senior citizen or mentally challenged person go missing, it becomes difficult as they would not be able to communicate properly. Usually, the families of missing persons are advised to stick posters in the locality and advertise in newspapers with their photos. As a last resort, they can also check whether they were found dead elsewhere and kept in the mortuary as unidentified person.
“But each missing person case is unique and we approach them with equal importance. As long as the man or woman go and hide themselves on purpose, it is not difficult to trace them," he added.
Preconceived notion about missing persons
The city police do, however, seem to have had pre-conceived notion about missing people. An inspector said that such cases could be classified into three or four categories. "Be it a man or woman, it could be either due to lover affair or fight with parents or the person could have committed suicide elsewhere. If parents are forthcoming with details, it becomes easier for us to trace them. Most of such cases we come across are elopements. If they are adults, we leave it to their wish whether they want to reunite with their parents. In case if there is a minor involved, then we have to follow the due procedure and detain them," said the inspector.
Not so difficult to trace missing people, says private detective