India

Has this Indian man really killed 30 children?

Ravinder
Image caption Ravinder has confessed to sexually assaulting and killing 30 children

Police in the Indian capital Delhi are investigating whether a man recently arrested for the murder of a six-year-old girl is a serial child killer who may be involved in 30 such crimes. His family, however, alleges he is being framed, writes the BBC's Geeta Pandey in Delhi. Readers may find some of the details in this article disturbing.

Ravinder - who uses only one name - was arrested last week after the body of the six-year-old girl was recovered from an abandoned building just 50 yards from her home.

In the days since his arrest, he has confessed to dozens of sexual assaults and murders of children, giving "details of times and places of crimes".

At the Begumpur police station in West Delhi's Rohini area, Ravinder is brought in to talk to me. He is handcuffed and the metal leash is held by a policeman. He squats on the floor near me and starts to tell me how he picked up his six-year-old victim.

Image caption Ravinder is lodged at the Begumpur police station in West Delhi's Rohini area

"It was around 06:30, I saw her going towards the fields [to go to the toilet].

Ravinder says he gave the girl 10 rupees to lure her into an abandoned building where he attacked her. She screamed so he gave her another 10 rupees to quieten her, but she screamed again.

In chilling detail he says he then strangled and sexually assaulted her.

"I brought her body down to the ground floor and left it there."

The self-confessed criminal says he has raped and killed "some 30 children" in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi since 2008 when he committed his first crime.

Last year, too, he was arrested for a similar crime - he was accused of sexually assaulting a six-year-old boy and slitting his throat. He spent a year in jail but was freed two months ago after the boy, who survived the assault, failed to identify him.

Image caption Pushpa Devi shows a tiny photograph of her six-year-old daughter who was killed last week

His story seems straight out of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - during the day, he worked at his ordinary job as a helper on a truck, but at night, high on alcohol and drugs - and sometimes after watching porn or English movies translated into Hindi - he would go out and hunt for children. "If they cried, I would kill them," he says.

Most of his prey were children from poor families like his own - those who slept on the streets, or children of construction workers whose poverty-stricken parents were unable to chaperone them because they were working too hard to earn a living.

I ask him if he ever felt guilty about what he had done?

"Yes, the day after the crime, I would think what I'd done was wrong and that I would stop. But then I would get drunk again and lose control," he said.

Image caption Ravinder's parents say he's confessed to the murders because he's being beaten by the police

"We are absolutely shocked by these revelations. He's a psychopath," deputy commissioner of police Vikramjit Singh told the BBC.

Of about 30 cases that Ravinder claims to have been involved in, police say they have been able to confirm that a dozen of these incidents actually took place.

"We are trying to verify the details of his other claims," Inspector Jagminder Singh Dahiya, the main investigator in the case, says.

But is this diminutive 23-year-old school dropout really the serial killer he is claiming to be?

His narrative seems rather rehearsed - maybe because it is, or maybe because he's said it too many times.

Image caption Of about 30 cases that Ravinder claims to have been involved in, police (pictured) say they have only been able to cross-check about a dozen

The police story, too, has raised some questions. In the days after the arrest, Ravinder had claimed he was involved in 15 murders but that tally has now risen to 30. Some local reporters are talking of his involvement in 40 - or even 100 - murders.

There has been some suggestion that Ravinder may be mentally ill and police say they are consulting mental health specialists in the case.

But his parents - plumber father Brahmanand and housemaid mother Manju - insist he is being framed by people who are influential and moneyed and say that their son is confessing to new crimes daily because he's being beaten by the police.

"I went to see him two days after he was arrested. He said he would say anything the police wanted him to because if he didn't admit to these crimes, they would beat him up and torture him. I think he has lost his mind because of the beating," Mr Brahmanand said, dissolving into tears.

"Give him four more days, he will confess to 200 murders. The police can even make God confess."

Mr Brahmanand says if the case is investigated by the federal police, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), his son's innocence will be proved.

Image caption Santosh Kumar wants his daughter's murderer to be hanged

Inspector Dahiya denies the police had beaten Ravinder. "He sang like a canary from the time we arrested him. We didn't even have to slap him," he says.

Meanwhile, the parents of the six-year-old murdered girl are bewildered and angry and want Ravinder hanged.

"We don't have a latrine at home so she had gone to the nearby fields. We were waiting for her to come back, have her tea and breakfast and go to school. But she never came back," says father Santosh Kumar, a bullock cart driver.

"We have two sons, but she was our only daughter. She was our youngest child. This man should be punished, he should be hanged," he adds.

"I wasn't even allowed to see her body. Everyone said you would faint," says mother Pushpa Devi, clutching a tiny photograph of her daughter.

"She was a happy child. She recently asked me for silver anklets. She said if you don't bring it, I will go away and never come back. And now she's gone forever," she says, breaking down.