Kidnapping – an easy way out of poverty?

Some of India's states are famous for their tourist attractions, others for manufacturing. But in Bihar, rampant kidnapping has given it a less enviable claim to fame.

Many young people are getting involved in the racket, in the hope of easy money.

Seven-year-old Sakshi was abducted outside her school last July, but police still have no leads on her disappearance. And now that media interest in her story has waned, Sakshi's family is more in the dark than ever.

“The family has been deeply affected – we have suffered these last few months, and we haven't been able to celebrate any of our festivals, because we don't know where our girl is and how she is doing,” said Sahshi’s grandmother. “I haven't lit the cooking fire in our house since she disappeared.”

With an average of six people disappearing every day in the state of Bihar in eastern India, kidnapping for ransom has become a thriving industry, fueled by surging unemployment and poverty.

“Kidnapping is the biggest money-spinner for criminals,” claimed local journalist Pramod. “When they abduct someone they keep them safe, as they view the captive as an asset whose return will yield money. So for criminals, this is a safe line of work. And by the time police get working, the ransom has already been paid by the family, and the kidnapped person has been released. So this is an easy source of income for criminals.”

The police, for their part, claim that kidnapping cases have fallen by 70 percent in the last year in the state capital, Patna. But they admit a worrying new development – youngsters taking to kidnapping in the hope of easy pickings.

Vineet Vinayak, Senior Superintendent of Police in Patna, says that being kidnapped by an organized criminal gangs raises the chances of the kidnapped person being able to survive.

“But when a small, unorganized bunch of people gets together, thinking this is a very lucrative business – to save the life of the kidnapped person in an incident of kidnapping done by unorganized people, that keeps you on your toes,”
Vinayak told RT.

Eight-year old Satyam disappeared while on his way to a nearby grocery store, and his father soon received a ransom call for $10,000. The family reported his disappearance to police, and eyewitnesses saw him with a 20-year old from the same neighborhood, but police failed to question the suspect for over 24 hours – during which time the kidnapper is believed to have panicked and killed the child.

Satyam’s father Rajesh Kumar blames police for not taking instant measures.

“If the police had started investigating when we first went to them at nine o'clock that evening, my son would still be with me,” Kumar claimed. “The kidnapper was given too much time. When he saw on TV that the police had finally cornered him, he decided to kill my son.”

It was in a grocery store where eight-year-old Satyam came to buy toffee that he was persuaded by his alleged kidnapper to come with him for a bike ride. That's the last time anyone saw him alive. Increasingly in Bihar, it's the middle class that are being targeted.

Earlier it was rich professionals who would receive ransom demands of $100,000 or more, but now middle-income families are being hit with ransom demands of around $10,000. And this worrying trend has cast a cloud of fear over neighborhoods such as this one.