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Help find them - a Hollywood movie, three Silcharians and some personal reflections

It began in Los Angeles on March 10th, 1928. Christine Collins, an employee at a telephone company in Los Angeles and a respectable single mother, one day comes home from work to find that her little son, Walter, has gone missing.
Her world turns upside down. Already embarrassed by its reputation for incompetence and corruption, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) frantically searches for the missing boy to give the press a ‘good-news story’. But when a little lad is duly pushed into the bewildered Christine’s arms, she insists that this is not her son. The Police Chief, on behalf of the LAPD, arrogantly refuses to admit their mistake. They insist that Christine cannot identify her son since his physical appearance has changed over the few months that he has been away from her. Even the boy insists that he is Christine’s lost son. But Christine would not agree to this and she keeps on collecting evidence that might prove that the new boy is not her son. Police insist she “try the boy out,” as if he were a new type of toothpaste rather than a child. As the mystery of her missing son deepens, Christine faces the chilling fury of an establishment that can’t bear to be challenged. One day, the child admits he is not Walter Collins. His name is Arthur Hutchins. He is a twelve-year-old runaway who’d pretended to be Walter so he could get a free trip to Hollywood and meet his favourite stars. Christine’s efforts expose the incompetence and wrongdoing of the police, but she faces an awful possibility about the fate of her child.

‘Changeling’ is a movie on Christine Collins’ experience. The script seems to have oozed out of a Kafka novel but the title card of the movie declares it to be a real incident. I started watching this movie without a knowledge of its story line because Clint Eastwood as the director and Angelina Jolie as the lead caught my attention. As I watched the movie, a thought crossed my mind. Why did the famous Hollywood celebrity decide to adapt the story of a missing Los Angeles boy, Walter? Had it been just another story of a missing child, it would have remained closed in police files with potentially nominal mentions in some local newspapers. But this was not just another case of a missing child. It had suspense, thrill, the struggle of a single mother against a rotten system and heinous crime–every possible ingredient to create a blockbuster movie! Also, Christine Collins was a modern, independent mother, who the spectators can easily relate to. So, her story was adapted for the silver screen. The movie was a big hit and spread like wildfire.

As I watched ‘Changeling’, I could see three faces appear in front of me, over and over again. I don’t know when the face of the LA boy Walter transformed into the ones of Sourav Das, Supriya Das and Neha Bagti- the missing children of Silchar.

Neha has been missing since 5th June 2017. Trisha had also gone missing on that fateful day. While Trisha was fortunately retrieved, Neha has been missing ever since. Even if we accept the argument that Neha had been involved in kidnapping Trisha, isn’t it necessary to find her and bring her to justice? Two children, Sourav and Supriya have been missing since 9th June 2019. The Police have not been able to find them. The Administration and Government have kept mum for reasons best known to them. While they reflect on their state of affairs, I think we as a society should hold a mirror in front of us- are we really the responsible citizens of Barak Valley? Three children are missing and we have been conspicuously silent. Wonder why, let us try to uncover that.

(L-R) Neha Bagti’s sister, mother and father who is no more; Image Credit: Manna Barbhuiya

Time flies. It literally does. A day turns into a month and a month into a year. We celebrate Women’s day, Mother’s day, Father’s day, Children’s day. We write long posts about women and their sufferings, how difficult it is to adorn the role of a mother and stories about ‘good dads’ who don’t care about their own comforts and toil hard to bring up their children. We post pictures from our childhood days or share photos of our children on the occasion of Children’s day. But we forget that Sunodhan and Somobala are also parents. And they have lost both of their children. While we don’t have a moment to spare for Sourav and Supriya Das or the time to think about Neha Bagti, astonishingly it’s the same us who had fought hard for Trisha Roy Chowdhury on Facebook, Whatsapp, and Twitter. The People, Government, Administration had used all of their might to seek the missing toddler and we had stood united with the Roy Chowdhury’s to bring Trisha back safely. Our collective effort did not go in vain. Trisha returned to her mother’s lap within eighty hours, which is indeed a piece of very happy news. Alas, Sourav, Supriya, and Neha’s parents are still awaiting their missing children.

Why is the Trisha abduction case ‘famous’? A child missing from the varsity premises makes us raise our voice because it shocks and frightens us. We start worrying about our children’s safety. Probably, this made us share Trisha’s photo on social media until she was safely brought back to her mother’s lap.

Whereas Sourav, Supriya, and Neha’s disappearances lack a similar shock factor. Their parents are not literate, well-off or influential. The case of these three missing children is not something very ‘unnatural’ to us. A vegetable vendor father who is a resident of Tapobon Lane and a mother who has lost her mental balance since the loss, surely their missing children do not deserve our unwavering attention? What if Neha Bagti’s father passed away from grief ?– we seem to keep these thoughts carefully tucked away from our mind, and our social media walls.

Sunadhan and Sombala Das, parents of Supriya and Sourav Das

Yes, this pandemic has brought us immense grief. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for us to keep ourselves safe. Where’s the time to think of something else? While this is undoubtedly true, it is also a fact that many amongst us have actually found spare time to be active on social media during this lockdown period. We are attending webinars, doing live sessions on Facebook, singing, and dancing to keep our minds occupied with pleasant thoughts and also cheer up our friends. We have also found the time and channel to be vocal about solving the death mystery of a movie star and have expressed our opinion on mental illness. From an elephant’s death to scams in COVID-19 treatment, we have raised our voice in each and every issue. On a similar note, let us also not forget Sourav, Supriya and Neha, the three missing children of our valley who need our immediate attention. Let us demand for a swift and efficient handling of their case. It’s high time that we speak up.

‘Changeling’- the aforementioned movie about a missing boy made me realise how a single person’s support can make a big difference to a devastated mother. The struggle of a Los Angeles mom is not that different to that of parents from Tapobon lane and Dargakona whose children have not returned home. We need to stand by them at this hour

This is an authored article and the views expressed are author’s personal. 

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