Continuing my American series from my previous editorial, I must admit that my American tour didn’t start so well. On my flight to the US, I saw three films which symbolized the epitome of boredom of made-only-for-Oscars and Oscars nominated stuff! First, I saw The Iron Lady; then I saw another forgettable movie whose name also I have thankfully forgotten; and finally I saw the movie J Edgar – each outdoing the other in trying to be slow, boring and almost meaningless. But then, when you want to win at the Oscars, a boring biopic is often the best way! Nevertheless, in the most boring J Edgar, what struck me was the fact that perhaps the biggest achievement of the iconic Hoover, the man behind American intelligence, was his investigation of a case of kidnapping of a little boy called Charles Lindbergh. The film and the American society, way back then in 1932, made such a huge issue around the kidnapping and disappearance of a kid – so much so that a famous newspaper writer called the kidnapping and its trial thereafter “the biggest story since resurrection”. The whole incident led to landmark acts and laws being passed, making transporting a kidnapping victim across state lines a federal crime. The accused was given the electric chair after being caught a couple of years later. But Hoover had used that particular kidnapping as a tool to lobby for a centralized record-keeping system leading to the fingerprint mapping of every citizen and the beginning of the world’s most efficient intelligence body – the Federal Bureau of Investigation; FBI.

Upon landing and reaching the hotel, even as my thoughts on the importance given by the American society to a single case of kidnapping had barely subsided, I read in the papers about the story of a 1979 kidnapping... that of a child called Etan Patz. What amazed me was that though the boy was kidnapped 33 years ago at the age of 6, and declared dead in 2001 since he could never be found, the police and FBI didn’t give up on him and continued their search. And then, in April 2012, they discovered a basement under a road near the boy’s home, where a carpenter lived, who was possibly someone who had had a hand in the murder. What struck me in the story again was how the kidnapping then in 1979 had shaken up the entire America and had resulted in amazing new awareness and changes in various systems – of parenting and schooling. Earlier, schools never alerted the parents if a child didn’t show up at school; but post the Etan case, schools started doing so, in order to ensure that in case there were a similar tragedy, it wouldn’t take till the end of the day for the parents to come to know – thereby saving precious hours for search operations to begin. Ronald Reagan even declared May 25th – the day of Etan’s disappearance – as the Missing Children’s Day. More importantly, a national system was laid down to track children who disappeared. The National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children since then has tracked down more than a hundred and fifty thousand kids. And as per statistics, the rate of recovery now stands at an extraordinary 97%, up from 62% in 1990!   Read More....

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