Highlights

  • After 9 agonising years, Pooja Gaud's missing case solved
  • Pooja reunited with her family after years of alleged abuse
  • Ironically, Pooja's alleged captors kept her 200 m from her home

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Kidnapped girl kept near her home for years, but not found. How Pooja Gaud's missing case was solved

Pooja was abducted from near her school when she was 7 years old. Despite the best efforts of a diligent policeman, it was an unlikely friend who finally helped reunite her with her family.

A 7-year-old girl is kidnapped, and kept just 200 metres away from her home for years. Her abductors, and family, both unaware, until 9 years later, a stranger unravels the entire tale.

7-yr-old Pooja Gaud went missing in Mumbai on 22 January 2013. She was on her way to school, walking with her elder brother Rohit. Pooja reportedly was arguing with her brother to give her ₹5 as recess money. During the argument, Pooja sat on the side of the road in anger. Rohit rushed ahead as they were already late for school by 15 minutes. While running ahead, Rohit asked Pooja to meet him during recess to take money from him. But Pooja never made it to school, and Rohit alerted his parents, who filed a missing persons' complaint.

So, what happened to young Pooja?

She claims that a man identified as Harry D'Souza lured her away with ice-cream, and then abducted her. Initially, Harry and his wife Soni treated Pooja well. They also renamed her 'Annie' to hide their crime. But as Pooja's case gained attention, the D'Souzas sent her away. She was reportedly sent to a boarding school in Raichur, Karnataka. In 2016, the D'Souzas had a biological daughter.

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Subsequently, Pooja was brought back from the hostel, and the nightmare worsened. Pooja says that the D'Souzas started mistreating her, and beating her up. She claims she was kicked, slapped, and beaten with belts, and rolling pins. The D'Souzas also allegedly forced Pooja to work as a domestic help at other houses.

Police say that Harry and Soni D'Souza were desperate for a child when they kidnapped Pooja.

Three years after she went missing, her father Santosh passed away. Ironically, the alleged abductors kept Pooja confined practically next door to her real family.

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Initially, the D'Souzas lived in Irla in Vile Parle, and later shifted to Gilbert Hill, Andheri. The D'Souzas didn't know this was Pooja's old locality. Her family lived just 200m away, in a nearby alley, according to reports. But Pooja and her family never discovered each other as she was kept under strict supervision. Pooja wasn't allowed to make friends, and Soni D'Souza used to drop and fetch Pooja from the house where she worked as a help.

The end of Pooja's horrific ordeal came about in equally dramatic fashion.

She became friends with another domestic help, Pramila Devendra, and confided in her that she had been abducted. Pooja told Pramila that her abductors regularly harassed her. Pramila then searched online, and came across news reports of Pooja's kidnapping. Pramila also found 5 contact numbers to give information about Pooja, but only one worked. This number belonged to Rafique, a neighbour of Pooja's family, and Pramila got in touch with him. Subsequently, Pooja's family confirmed her identity via a​ video call.

Then, a time and place for a meeting between Pooja and her family was fixed. On that day, Pooja reportedly stepped out on the pretext of taking the baby for a walk. Finally, on 4 August 2022, at 8:20 pm, Pooja was reunited with her family, after a long wait of almost a decade.

After this, police reached Harry and Soni D'Souza's house, and confronted them. After denying the charges, they finally admitted the crime, according to reports. Police have booked the couple but only arrested Harry D'Souza, leaving the wife to take care of their 6-year-old daughter.

The charges against them include kidnapping under Section 363 of the Indian Penal Code, which has a maximum punishment of 7 years in jail, and a fine. There is also intent to wrongfully confine a person under IPC Section 365, with a maximum penalty of 7-year imprisonment and a fine. They have also been accused of buying, or disposing a person as a slave under IPC Section 370, which carries a similar max punishment of 7 years in jail and a fine. Another charge is unlawful compulsory labour under IPC 374, with a maximum punishment of 1 year in jail, and a fine.

Apart from Pooja, the case has made another person famous - retired policeman Rajendra Bhosale. The committed cop never stopped looking for Pooja, even after retirement.

Assistant Sub Inspector Bhosale was a 1978 police batch officer. The son of a school principal, Bhosale lost his sister to dowry harassment. He was in-charge of the missing persons' bureau at DN Nagar Police Station between 2010 and 2015. From 2008 to 2015, 166 girls went missing in the area, and Bhosale and his team successfully tracked down 165 of them - Pooja the sole exception. The cop finally retired in 2015, but he kept visiting Pooja's family to continue to search.

Bhosale used to carry Pooja's photographs with him all the time. When he finally heard that she had been found, he didn't believe the news till he had personally confirmed it, according to a report in the Indian Express. After years of agony, he reportedly expressed relief by saying, "Meri Pooja mil gayi."

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