This gripping tale unfolded when a 36-year-old married woman, hailing from an affluent family, mysteriously vanished from city’s Humayunnagar on June 29, 2018. She evaded detection by meticulously erasing all traces of her digital and personal identity, including her religious affiliation. She even married another man and altered her physical appearance while embarking on a new life working with an NGO in Maharashtra.
After her father filed a habeas corpus petition in the Telangana high court, her disappearance was initially linked to a dispute with her husband. After years of pursuit, investigators finally got a break when they discovered she had updated her Aadhaar card. Police successfully tracked her to Goa where she was found leading a new life, utilising facial recognition and digital investigation techniques.
Additional director general of police, women safety wing, Shikha Goel, told TOI, “While we have traced several missing persons using digital technology, this case stands out. Initially, we suspected the family members due to ongoing disputes, but it turned out to be a case of erasing one’s digital and personal identity to start afresh.”
The woman’s disappearance five years ago involved leaving her mobile phone at home without informing her family members locking them inside. It was not her first disappearance, as she had gone missing twice in 2014 and 2015 when she was involved in disputes with her husband. However, she had returned home. In 2018, her father filed a dowry harassment complaint, alleging that she had gone missing due to harassment by her husband, leading to a case being registered.
The investigation began with an analysis of CCTV footage which revealed that she had voluntarily left her home. However, police trail went cold. In 2019, her father filed a writ petition in HC, which directed police to seek assistance from women safety wing and anti-human trafficking unit.
Sub-inspector of women safety wing P Harish said they got leads from her friends who disclosed that she had used another mobile phone to book a cab. Her voice recording with the cab company and her initial trip to Pune provided leads. However, the investigation hit a roadblock after she sold her phone and the pandemic further compounded the probe.
A breakthrough finally came when investigators found that her Aadhaar card had been updated last month. The update included a change from Telugu to Marathi and alterations to her religion and husband’s name. This led to the discovery of her bank account details, followed by digital investigation that uncovered her new identity on social media.
A cop said: “Using Aadhaar update details, we found her bank account information. Through digital investigative tools, we traced her social media accounts under her new name. Her Instagram posts indicated she was in Goa. She is involved in social work. We have established her identity, using facial recognition technology.”
Cops apprehended her from Goa, presenting her before the court. During her court appearance, she expressed her desire to be on her own, a request that the court granted. Harish added, “Her new husband only discovered her true identity when we arrived.”