Mumbai: 9yrs in captivity leaves kidnapped girl mentally, physically scarred
After being kidnapped and held captive by a couple for nine years, Mumbai's 16-year-old Pooja Gaud reunited with her family last month. While her return home brought joy, it wasn't an end to her worries. She still struggles with the mental and physical trauma she endured in captivity. She suffers from physical ailments while battling mental scars every day as a result of abuse.
Why does this story matter?
- After Pooja went missing, a huge media campaign was launched to find her.
- She was dubbed "Girl No. 166"—she was the only one among 166 missing girls whom Mumbai's former DN Nagar Police Station Assistant Sub-Inspector Rajendra Bhosle's team couldn't find during 2008-15.
- She finally found freedom in August with a domestic worker's help through a contact number on a missing poster of hers.
The beginning of Pooja's ordeal
The accused couple—Harry D'Souza and Soni D'Souza—was childless when they kidnapped Pooja in January 2013. Pooja and her elder brother Rohit were headed to school, but after a fight, he had left her behind. D'Souza—who's now been arrested—lured her on the pretext of buying ice cream and kidnapped her outside the school. They initially took Pooja to Goa and Karnataka before shifting to Mumbai.
Was allowed to attend school for a while
As the couple moved around with Pooja, they threatened to thrash her if she cried or drew attention to herself. Until they had a baby, they allowed her to go to school for a short period. After having a daughter in 2015, they began abusing her more and forced her to work. Interestingly, in Mumbai, the couple—along with Pooja—lived close to her family's home.
Soni D'Souza has not been arrested
D'Souza's wife Soni reportedly used to thrash Pooja with a rolling pin or belt whenever she made any mistake, which many times left her bleeding. She said as she was forced to work constantly, she never realized the extent of her injuries. Last month, D'Souza was arrested after Pooja was rescued. Soni was named as an accused but not arrested, considering their six-year-old daughter.
Pooja suffers from pelvic inflammation, spinal issues, ear infection
Dr. Danish Shaikh—who is treating Pooja—told The Indian Express that she suffers from inflammation in the pelvic region while her spine, cervical, and lumbar regions had also developed issues. Repeated slaps have caused an infection in her ears. He said he wasn't sure if the issues were due to the beatings or excessive work, but if left untreated, they would lead to severe complications.
Pooja still cries late into night recalling abuse
Pooja's mother Poonam—who is now the sole breadwinner of the family after her husband succumbed to cancer in February—said that even today, Pooja bursts into tears late at night recalling the abuse she faced. Pooja prefers staying home as she is still not comfortable going out after all these years of captivity. Her childhood friends do visit her, but she doesn't remember anyone.
Poonam sells chickpeas to run the family
Pooja's family is currently reeling under debt taken for her treatment. Poonam sells chickpeas to run the family as Rohit—who worked as a technical assistant earlier—was forced to quit after the working conditions adversely affected his health. They were promised financial assistance but haven't received any yet, said Poonam. Police personnel said they had supplied 25kg of rice and wheat to the family earlier.