After his parents fled, Harender Choudary, a dark, silent child wandered through the dusty lanes of Purenderpur village wearing only a dirty shirt. There was no one willing to put trousers on 'the little murderer', as the villagers jeeringly call him. When asked why he clubbed to death an 18- month-old girl, a six-year-old boy and his eight-year-old sister, Harender refused to answer a journalist from the Calcutta Telegraph. 'Leave him alone,' snapped a village woman. 'What will the child say? He understands nothing.'
A police Deputy Inspector General, Rathan Lal Kanajia, who visited this village in one of India's most impoverished corners after the triple murder, said: 'The family left the boy to fend for himself.' Fearing that Harender might be killed in reprisal, social workers moved him to the home of distant relatives. Police reinforcements were also rushed to the village to prevent a religious riot: the victims belonged to a Muslim family and Harender is a Hindu. Such stray incidents in India often explode into communal violence.
It started as a simple tantrum, but ended with all three of Gauda Khatoon's children dead. While Mrs Khatoon was off harvesting spinach in the fields, her eldest daughter, Shahida, decided to go for a walk through the village with her younger brother, Akbar, who was carrying the baby. They crossed in front of the thatched mud hut where Ha render was playing with his bamboo stick.
'Move away]' shouted Harender. 'We won't budge]' retorted Shahida.
Without warning, Harender aimed his stick at Shahida, missed and cracked the baby on the skull, killing him instantly, according to witnesses who watched from too far away to stop the one-sided fight. Akbar tried to wrestle the stick away from the younger boy, but he, too, was struck unconscious. Shahida was also hit and ran to her mother.
'Shahida came crying and said the son of Choudary had killed Nisa and Akbar with a thick bamboo stick,' Mrs Khatoon told the Telegraph. 'I ran to the spot and saw the child was breathing her last.'
Akbar was rushed by villagers to the hospital but never regained consciousness. Mrs Khatoon walked four miles to the police station carrying her baby's body, accompanied by Shahida. It was at the police station that Shahida began vomiting; she died from internal injuries from the beating.
Because this triple murder happened in Bihar, a backward, feudal state where violent death is common, and because it was not premeditated, it did not provoke the kind of national soul-searching that the killing of James Bulger by two boys did in Britain.
And the story of Bihar's 'little murderer' was eclipsed by a killing in Calcutta that is even more horrifying: a teenage boy and his school friends last month murdered the boy's father, step-mother and step- brother by posing as armed thieves. While one schoolboy brandished a toy pistol, they first tied and gagged the mother, Niyati Barui, 40. When her husband, Subol, 50, and son, Kajal, 24, returned home, they too were tied down.
While eating biscuits, the masked teenagers hacked their victims to death with kitchen knives. Before leaving, they tossed a few rupees on the table to pay for the food they had eaten.
The boys confessed, bizarrely, that the inspiration for murder had come from a BBC programme, The World This Week, several months earlier.