A report published in Eenadu, a prominent newspaper in Telangana, under the title ‘Eamaipothunnaru’ reported that over 500 people have gone missing from the state in just ten days. The report has caused mass hysteria among users on social media.
According to the newspaper article, 546 people – ranging from 2-year-old children to 80-year-olds, mostly from in and around Hyderabad – have reportedly gone missing between June 1 and June 10. The report also blames the ‘callous attitude’ of the Telangana police in handling the situation and states that most of the cases are closed within two days from the date of filing. The report created a sense of panic, with many people on social media questioning the credibility of the state police and asking other citizens to stay safe.
Calculating the data at hand, 54 people have gone missing on an average per day in the past 10 days. Considering the size of the state, are the numbers unusual? According to a fact check done by TNM, the number 546 isn’t unusually high. In 2016, a total of 16,134 persons (including children) went missing in Telangana, which is 44 people per day on an average. Moreover, there are a couple of factors behind the rise during the months of May and June.
Swati Lakra, Inspector General of Police, Women’s safety, explains.
“The numbers are not alarming. Summer is the time when a large number of missing cases are filed. And most of these are children who run away from homes in fear of exams or before schools reopen and in all these incidents, parents file a case within 3-4 hours of the child going missing. But an important thing to be noticed here is that a considerable number of these children return home once the panic dies down. But since the cases are filed, they become a part of the state statistics,” Lakra says.
According to official statistics, from June 1 to June 10, 540 missing cases have been reported in Telangana, out of which the police have been able to trace 222 persons. In a press release issued by the state police on June 11 after Eenaadu published its report, police have said that in 2018, 85 per cent of the missing persons cases were solved. Though 85% is a claim by the police, according to 2016 data with the National Crime Records Bureau, Telangana police had traced 67.2% of the people who went missing that year. Only Kerala, Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura had fared better that year. If the Telangana police's claim that they traced back 87% of the persons who went missing in 2018 is true, this means that the policing has improved from 2016. However, Kerala police say they tracked down 94% of the people who went missing in 2018 and therefore, there is much scope to improve as far as Telangana police are concerned.
“85% is not a number to go by. The success rates differ from year to year and from month to month. If the police are able to crack a good number of cases this month, the number may go up, the figures may go down in July and again see a surge in the following months. So it is not desirable to create panic taking into account the success rates from previous years,” Swati Lakra says.
WhatsApp groups are adding to the panic, asking people to remain vigilant and the state BJP unit has attributed the number of women missing in the state to “secret gangs that are expanding their activities in Telangana.”
As per the data from the state police department, of the 540 missing cases filed in the last ten days, 276 are women. While women’s safety has always been a pertinent issue, cops rule out the possibility of secret gangs and say that an equal number of men also go missing.
“The families of women are easily perturbed. They file a complaint if they are late from work or are not found for a few hours. While we appreciate this kind of vigilance from the side of citizens, the fact is that an equal number of men or even more go missing compared to women. However, it usually takes a family 2-3 days to file a case when it comes to men,” Lakra explains.
The newspaper report also stresses on the number of people who have gone missing from Hyderabad and its locales. While the official statistics corroborate the fact (116 people are missing from Cyberabad), cops attribute it to the increased sense of vigilance among the urban population.
“We have not come across a particular reason behind this, but it could be that a larger number of people are now vigilant about their surroundings and do not hesitate to approach the cops in such matters,” Lakra adds.
Police officials also say that unlike what the report states, cases are not closed or dismissed in a hurry.
“CID has a special wing to trace persons in case they are not traced within four months despite best efforts by the local police. We conduct regular drives under Operation Muskan and Operation Smile. In fact, our facial recognition system has been extensively used to trace persons from within the state and across the border,” Lakra adds.