Rajwati, who manages her family shoe store in Nithari village, still clings to hope in the search for her son, who disappeared during the horrific killings that took place about two decades ago.
“Hum to ab tak dhuund rahe hain kahin mil jaaye (We are searching for him till now, hoping to find him),” she told journalists at her shop, located just 50 meters from the house of Moninder Singh Pandher. The Allahabad High Court acquitted Pandher and Koli, who were facing the death penalty, after noting that the police had “botched up” their investigation.
“He was only six years old when he left home around 5 pm to have juice but never returned. We started searching but couldn’t find him,” she recalls. She points out that the police only discovered bones, which aren’t conclusive evidence of her son’s fate.
According to Rajwati, those bones could belong to anyone, not necessarily her son. Pandher and his associate, Surendra Koli, were sentenced to death on charges of rape and murder in 10 cases last year after being held guilty for the shocking killings that came to light on December 29, 2006.
The discovery of the skeletal remains of eight children from the drain behind Pandher’s house in Nithari, Noida, revealed the gruesome reality of the serial killings, which involved abduction, sexual abuse, and brutal murders of children and young women. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed 19 cases against Pandher and Koli in 2007.
While Pandher has been acquitted of all charges and is now free, Koli remains charged in some cases. The victims were primarily children from migrant families who had come to Noida for livelihood. Rajwati is the only local resident who continues to reside near Pandher’s isolated house (D-5), surrounded by forest grass.
Expressing her disappointment, Rajwati questioned the justice system, stating, “We did not get justice. He had money, so he was acquitted. If he doesn’t get punished after such a heinous crime, who will be held accountable?”
Similarly, Sunita, another victim’s parent, expressed her anger and disbelief at the acquittal. Her daughter was 10 when she disappeared, and Pandher and Koli were the prime suspects in her killing.
“I am shattered by this verdict. Justice would have been done had the victims belonged to influential families,” retorted an angry Sunita, who irons clothes along with her husband Jhabbulal near Pandher’s house. They used to iron clothes for the Pandher household, where Sunita’s deceased daughter would visit to pick clothes to be ironed.
“Either this judgment is wrong or the previous judgments that pronounced Pandher and Koli guilty were wrong,” said Jhabbulal.
Originally from Unnao (Uttar Pradesh), Jhabbulal has been ironing clothes in Nithari for the last 35 years. The grieving parents also alleged rude behaviour and threats from CBI staff and police during the investigation of the case.
“My daughter’s clothes were found in Pandher’s home. They found a lot of evidence, but the CBI wants more proof now,” said Sunita, suspecting Pandher’s involvement in child trafficking.
She claimed that nurses and doctors used to visit Pandher’s house, and when questioned, he would dismiss it, saying, “My mother is ill, they have come to visit her”.
According to Sunita, Pandher was involved in trafficking children. She fears that if he is released, he might harm more children.
Expressing their frustration over the lack of justice, Sunita threatened, “There is no justice here; there will be justice only in front of God. He (Pandher) had admitted that he killed the children. If they hand him over to us, we will take matters into our own hands and deal with him”.
For a financially struggling family like theirs, the expenses related to the case have been overwhelming. “We have spent around Rs 10 lakh on the case. We had to travel to different courts — Allahabad, Delhi — during the initial 3-4 years. The lawyers also charged money,” said Jhabbulal.
When asked about their plans moving forward, Jhabbulal said they had resigned themselves to their fate. “Ab aage kya karenge, jo Bhagwaan chahega wohi hoga (What will we do now? Whatever God wills, will happen)”.