It was on January 6 that 17-year-old Manju* went missing from her home in Kumily panchayat in the Idukki district of Kerala. Twenty three days later, she was found by a team of Kerala police at Shamkuruti near Kanjar in Thodupuzha. Manju had left home with a 21-year-old history sheeter called George alias Appukuttan. The couple had left Kumily and lived in the Adoormala forest near Elaveezhapoonchira hill station in the border of Kottayam and Idukki districts till Tuesday.
According to the police, the two had survived in the forest eating tubers, wild fruits and coconuts and had lived in rock caves, under bamboos and small clearings they could find among the trees.
When Manju’s family approached the police on January 6 to file a missing complaint, they were apprehensive that she had left the place with George who had been hired at the family’s farm for plucking areca nuts. When the police realised that George was a history sheeter, the search for the couple was intensified. George, a resident of Melukavu in Kottayam, already has a POCSO case against him for raping and impregnating a minor and is accused in a case of theft.
"Our primary investigation found that the accused was a habitual offender. A POCSO case was already filed against him in the Chingavanam police station. It was important to find them fast,” Kumily Sub-Inspector Prasanth P Nair told TNM.
A 75-member police team was formed under Kattappana Deputy Superintendent of Police NC Rajmohan. As part of the probe, the police tracked Manju’s mobile phone signal to a tower in Elaveezhapoonchira, under Kanjar police station limit. Though the police teams and locals searched the area, they could not trace the couple who had by then shifted into the interiors of the forest.
On Tuesday, however, they ran out of luck as a police team spotted them as they emerged out of the forest. Carrying two sacks of fruits they plucked from the forest, the couple who had planned to sell them in a market, ran in different directions as they spotted the police.
Manju, who had become physically weak due to the stay in the forest took refuge in a house on the border of the forest. Though the family agreed to give her shelter, they informed the police, suspecting there could have been foul play. Meanwhile, the police had chased and caught George by then.
Since the girl’s family had filed a habeas corpus in the Kerala High Court, the minor was produced before the court on Wednesday. "We produced the girl before the High Court. Currently, we have arrested George under Section 363 of Indian Penal Code (abduction). We will record the statement of the girl and complete a medical test on her. More sections will be added later,” Kumily Sub-Inspector Prasanth P Nair said.
However, Manju’s family has declined to take her back with them. With the HC being informed of this, the court has placed the minor under the care of the Child Welfare Committee of Idukki district.