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Home in darkness over missing girl

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, June 10, 2014

HER thoughts are always on their minds.

Although she is their fifth child, her birth on October 16, 1984 was a very joyous occasion for Dharam Jeet, his wife Phul Kuar and their family.

But this joy turned into grief for the family two weeks after their daughter Vandhana Pritika Jeet's 16th birthday in 2002.

It was something the family had never expected to happen and whatever happened has affected them psychologically.

Vandhana went missing on November 1, 2002 and despite searching for her at various places, her parents are yet to find her.

To make things worse for the family, there has been no word, rumour or confirmation that she was killed by someone.

Yesterday, Ms Kuar said she believed that her daughter was alive somewhere, either in Fiji or overseas, saying "she could have been a victim of human trafficking".

"I have been running to the Rakiraki Police Station and even police headquarters in Suva since the day my daughter didn't return home but nothing has come up so far," she said.

There was not much reported on the disappearance of Vandhana until June 2005 when three sisters went missing from Naria in Rakiraki.

It was then that the police also started investigating her disappearance while searching for the missing sisters, whose bodies have also not been found.

The man who is serving a life sentence for the three sisters murder was also seen as a suspect by the police in Vandhana's disappearance three years earlier.

Vandhana attended Penang Sangam Primary School, after which she enrolled at Jasper Williams High School in Lautoka as a boarding student.

She was at the school from 1999 to 2001 and after completing Form Five, she moved back to Rakiraki and enrolled at Penang Sangam High School in 2002.

While at the school, she became friends with one of the three sisters' who went missing during a picnic trip to Malake Island on June 26, 2005.

Ashika Sherin Lata, 19, Renuka Roshni Lata, 18, and Radhika Roshni Lata, 17, of Naria in Rakiraki also attended Penang Sangam High School.

The three sisters failed to return home from the picnic and despite an extensive search in Rakiraki waters, their bodies were also not found.

On October 31, 2002, Vandhana woke up to prepare for school and after having breakfast with her siblings, she walked to the Nokonoko Circular Rd junction about 100 metres from her home.

She left for school and it was later in the afternoon on the same day when her parents met her at the Rakiraki bus stand while they were on their way home after the Diwali shopping.

Ms Kuar said one of the three sisters asked to take Vandhana to their home in Naria for the night but she hesitated because her daughter did not have any extra clothes with her.

"It was a Thursday and the three sisters wanted to take Vandhana to their home and then to the school carnival that night. I refused to let her go ," she said.

"But Ashika assured me not to worry and that Vandhana would be returning home the next day, so I hesitantly agreed. That was the last time I saw my daughter.

"It was the first time that I had allowed her to go and spend the night at someone else's house and I regret allowing her to."

After saying goodbye to Vandhana, her parents said they boarded another bus and returned to Madhuvani to prepare for Diwali, which was two days away.

In the afternoon of Friday, November 1, 2002, her parents and siblings eagerly waited for her to return home but when she did not get off the school bus, they became worried.

Vandhana's mother went to the three sisters house in Naria but was told that Vandhana had gone to another friend's house some distance away.

Ms Kuar checked at that friend's house and returned to the three sisters house when she could not find her daughter at the place stated.

After searching for Vandhana throughout Friday night, she reported the matter at Rakiraki Police Station and returned home at 5:30am on Saturday — Diwali day.

The family has not celebrated Diwali since 2002 and when others celebrate the festival of lights every year, Vandhana's family home is in darkness.

Ms Kuar yesterday said the family had not performed Vandhana's final rites because her body has not been found and they believe she is still alive.

"We have been hearing a lot of rumours about my daughter and especially the missing sisters, that they were seen in this country and that country.

"I don't really know how far all these things are true. But there may be someone out there who knows something but is not coming out openly to reveal the truth for various reasons.

"As a mother, I have that feeling and belief that Vandhana is alive somewhere. It's almost 14 years now since her disappearance and I urge the government to do something and even try getting overseas experts help to find my daughter."

Ms Kuar said at times, she even asked people on the streets if they knew anything about her daughter because thoughts of Vandhana were always on her mind.

"How can I forget her? She is my daughter. I'm pleading to people who may have any information on her disappearance to please come forward and say what they know," she said.

Police spokesman Inspector Atunaisa Sokomuri said yesterday that the file on Vandhana's disappearance in 2002 is still open.

"The case is still open for investigation but we have not received any new or fresh information on the case. If any fresh information comes up, then we will follow it up," he said.

With confirmation from the police that the file is still open for investigation unlike other missing persons files that close after seven years if they are not found, the only thing left is a solid lead for the police to locate Vandhana if she is still alive as her family believes.

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