In the first part of “The girl they didn’t love”, we reported on the long-term abuse of a 6-year-old girl from the Oshwal Community who we called Alika* in order to protect her identity. It is alleged that Alika suffered abuse while in the custody of her biological parents, two Indian Nationals who settled in Kenya. The headmistress of her school, Ms Bijal Shah, claims she noticed that Alika would come to school bearing injuries, and began making records of the same. She also claims that she reported the abuse to the Oshwal Education Relief Board as early as January 2015, but that nothing was done for more than three months.
Today we pick up the thread of this story as reported by Alika’s mother and father, Mr and Mrs J* (whose identities we must also conceal in order to protect their daughter’s).
“I can recall very well that on 10th June 2010, I was blessed with two daughters – Aliya* and Alika*. After giving birth, Alika was a premature baby; she was kept in the incubator for 22 days.
After the obligatory entering of her biodata into her police statement, these were the first words that Mrs J, Alika’s mother, wrote down. She paints a picture of a child who had a very rough start to her life, the next key incident that she notes down being one that will likely affect Alika as long as she lives.
‘At 10 months she fell from (the) sofa-set, she was injured her left side of the brain which resulted in the right side of her body getting paralysed. At the same time, the doctor responded that she was epileptic…”
Mr. and Mrs J go on to describe a three-year period within which Alika was taken to India to live with her grandmother, as she and her young husband couldn’t cope with the bills they would receive for her treatment in Kenya. In India, Alika is said to have made significant progress in her physiotherapy and overall development, so she was brought back to live with her family.
She would be enrolled in an Oshwal run school, but according to her parents, Alika couldn’t cope with the pace of the other students and was withdrawn.
Bijal Shah, the headmistress of the school that Alika was taken to, says that she would later find out that Alika was allegedly withdrawn because the school’s management started asking questions about the strange wounds she would come to school bearing.
Alika’s injuries, she alleges, were noted within the first month of her attending Bijal’s school. The pictures that she took, Bijal alleges, were just part of the story.
“In the midst of all this, Alika from day one at school continuously asked everyone using signs and gestures and asking verbally “food, food.”
In her statement, Bijal makes note of a record she allegedly kept of the meals that Alika was sent to school with, also claiming that she raised it with Alika’s mother, Mrs J.
“I talked to mother about increasing the quantity of Alika’s break-time snack. She responded that she had no time to pack extra.”
Bijal, Mr and Mrs J then trade accusations over who was responsible for Alika’s injuries, with Bijal consistently stating how many times she reached out to the Oshwal Education Relief Board, without success, until the 27th of April, 2015. It had been four months since Bijal had first reported the injuries to a member of the Oshwal Committee.
Minutes kept by Bijal describe members of the Oshwal Education Relief Board being shocked at the photos of Alika that were presented to them. However, as she notes in the minutes, “Nothing came of the meeting”.
Later though, the community would broker a temporary settlement, where a relative of Alika’s parents would take her for a month. Nine days after this, the relative contacted the Oshwal Committee asking to return the child to her parents. Bijal alleges that this relative says he was “under pressure” from Alika’s parents to return her, but Alika’s mother claims that there was no such pressure. When Bijal heard that Alika would be returned to her parents, she claims that she got very upset, and began pushing for that not to happen.
It wasn’t until consistent pushing by Bijal, and an alleged threat to take the information she had to the police that Bijal says the Oshwal Education Relief Board invited her to an emergency session. This time though, the Chairman of the Hindu Council of Kenya, Nitin Malde, was present. Malde is a well-known businessman in the community and is said to have deep networks in Kenya’s business and political classes.
According to her statement and minutes taken of that meeting, Bijal says she fought for 3 hours for the board not to return Alika to her parents. Members of the board, who had seen the photos of the child’s injuries, she claims, kept silent.
“I then declared that I would report this matter to the Children’s department and the Police. That is when the Chairman of the Hindu Council of Kenya Nitin Malde threatened to shut down my school and imprison me if I were to inform the children’s department or the police,” Bijal claims. She continues:
“He claimed that His Excellency the President Honourable Uhuru Kenyatta was his personal friend so I should watch out.”
“I did not say anything like that,” Malde told me in a phone interview.
“I have written a statement of what happened and I did not say that. These are complete lies.”
An individual who was at this meeting, who did not want us to reveal their name for fear of reprisals, said the following of the meeting.
“It was a meeting where it was unpleasant.”
Was Bijal threatened? I asked.
“Threatened is a strong word. I t was sort of a condition. If you don’t do this, this will happen.”
“Did Nitin Malde say that he and President Kenyatta were personal friends and that she should watch out?”
“I faintly recollect something to that effect. He said something like “I can put you in trouble.”
After the meeting, Alika was taken back to Mr. and Mrs. J. The abuse, Bijal claims, would continue.
“On the 22nd of June Alika came to school with a swollen and bruised palm. An imprint of the heel of a shoe was visible,” she writes.
“On the 25th of June Alika came to school with a busted lip, a swollen forehead and bruises on the face. I could not take this any more.”
Bijal claims that she wrote to Alika’s parents, asking them to withdraw her from the school.
Mr. and Mrs. J deny claims of abuse repeatedly through their statements, expressing shock and dismay at the claims. On one occasion, Mr. J claimed that he got in touch with Bijal about the bruises he had noticed on his daughter’s body:
“On seeing these marks I contacted Ms. Bijal Shah, regarding the marks on Alika’s body. She told me she would look into this matter, investigate and get back to us,” he writes.
By this time, word in the school had gone round about Alika’s alleged abuse. One family in particular, the Mehta’s*, were particularly moved by the plight of this young girl, and made an application to the Children’s department to have her removed from her parents custody.
It would have hit 25 degrees centigrade in Nairobi by the time that Mrs. J would be seated inside an office at the Department of Criminal Investigations department in Parklands, after being picked up from her home nearby by police officers from the station. Things though, had already reached boiling point. She was there to write a statement regarding the alleged abuse of her then 5-year old child, Alika*, who by this time had been withdrawn from her and her husband’s custody almost two months earlier, on the 9th of July.
In her statement to the police, Mrs. J’s recollection of the 9th of July is brief:
‘Then on the 9th of July, the court had given orders for the child to take the child away from the parents for which the police in casual clothes, the people from the court and the media came to our house on 9th July at around 3:30pm and took Alika* away.”
Her husband’s statement of the events of that day read similarly; not giving away any hint of what they felt.
However, a statement made by Child Officer, Penina Kanyihia, who had been assigned to withdraw Alika from the custody of her parents, seems to paint that afternoon in more detail.
“We arrived there at around 3pm…it took us two hours for the door to be opened.”
“During the rescue I noted the following:
- The child appeared weak and withdrawn.
- The child was very happy to leave the home. In fact she waved the parents goodbye. This is a behavior very unusual for children of this age bearing in mind I was just a stranger.”
Anjlee Ghadvi Noorani, a popular local TV News Anchor, had been following the case, and was present at Mrs. J’s apartment block with her camera crew, who filmed Alika’s removal.
“She was not angry, remorseful or crying. She was quite happy to leave. There was no clinging to her mother. She said goodbye and left.”
“How did she look?” I asked Anjlee.
“Frail. I’d say frail, quite unkempt. She looked a mess. Its not how you’d keep any child.”
Alika would be taken to the Agha Khan hospital where a preliminary assessment of her injuries was made. She had a fractured shoulder that was between five and ten days old. It hadn’t been treated. The initial report of this injury stated that it was likely “non-accidental.”
Follow up visits by Penina to the Mehta’s (who were awarded temporary custody of Alika a few days later) would claim that Alika’s health and weight had improved.
The abuse may have ended, but the drama had just begun. Claims of threats from the Oshwal Committee to members of the community against speaking out about Alika’s plight were issued, going as far as to invoke national security laws as deterrents. It would appear that someone wanted a blanket of silence thrown over Alika’s story of abuse.
Next week, we unveil details of the alleged attempts by officers within the Oshwal committee to silence members of their community over this case, and a brewing war between old and new committee members over the Committee’s role in protecting Alika.