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Lured to beg in Mecca

Bansberi (Murshidabad), April 5: Twelve-year-old Hasina Khatun was smuggled out of her village with others from the region early this year to beg on the streets of Mecca. Today, she is back with her parents, weak and suffering from chicken pox.

Deported by the Saudi Arabian government last month, Hasina’s return has sparked a flurry of activity among the district detective inspector’s office, the wing of the Criminal Investigation Department that is investigating incidents of physically-challenged children and youths being taken to Saudi Arabia to beg during Haj.

According to police, some of the touts who were involved in the racket have been held for questioning.

Hasina’s father Yastullah Sheikh, however, refuted this claim. He said despite he and his daughter having informed the police about the men who lured deformed children into begging, no one has been picked up yet.

“Being a poor farm labourer, I do not have access to senior police officers. But both me and my daughter have named several people involved in the racket to the personnel in the Murshidabad police station, as well as the CID,” asserted Sheikh.

“We have named Afazuddin and his wife, Bhulubibi, of Basudebpur. This couple has smuggled out many handicapped children to Mecca,” he said.

Hasina, who has severe burn injuries on her left cheek and a deformed left arm, scarred with burn marks, said the touts had promised her father Rs 15,000 and 30 grams of gold once she returned from Mecca. “Every day at dawn in Mecca, we sat in a row begging. The sheikhs would drop hundreds of rupees on our sheets. Instantly, the hovering Afazuddin or Bhulubibi would scoop away the money,” Hasina recalled.

The girl also said the couple thrashed her if the collection of alms was low. “Fortunately, I was picked up by the Saudi police and sent by flight to Mumbai,” Hasina said.

The Saudi police also arrested 31 Indian touts who are serving prison terms there.

Sources at the district detective inspector’s office said that as Hasina was suffering from chicken pox it was not possible for them to interrogate her.

“We have sent probe teams to Murshidabad and Kandi police station areas where most of the touts are located and are gathering more evidence to tighten the case against them,” a police officer said.

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