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Bride-to-beggar 'export' racket thrives
- Misery at Mecca and Medina destined for those who bite bait
Rajrani Khatun, who does not have an arm, has apparently received several proposals. Her parents, however, denied that

Behrampore, Oct. 10: Wanted: Brides with an amputated arm or better, both arms; a distorted face, preferably blind. Groom healthy, young and rich; likes to travel. No dowry.

If your are asking 'What' welcome to Murshidabad's Kandi and Behrampore, where girl trafficking has taken a new dimension.

Maimed girls are first being lured into marriage and then packed off to the Gulf countries to beg for alms, particularly during the Ramazan month. The destination ' the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Sahida Khatun, 18, from Ranitolla in Behrampore, who did not have an arm, was married to Alamgir Sheikh three months ago. Her honeymoon was short lived.

Immediately after marriage, Sahida was taken to Mecca by her father-in-law, Jagatbari Sheikh, to beg on its streets.

Like Sahida, hundreds of physically-challenged girls from villages such as Sealmara, Udaychandpur, Hatpara and Natungram, about 220 km from Calcutta, are being taken away.

Such weddings are also on the rise in villages under Kandi police station. Families of girls with an arm less are being flooded with at least one proposal every week.

The district administration admitted that in 1996 the Saudi authorities had communicated to it that people were being taken there for begging.

'We have asked the intelligence bureau to investigate the alleged trafficking. We have heard that people from the district have been arrested in Saudi Arabia for being involved in the racket but it has not been formally communicated to us,' said district magistrate N. Manjunatha Prasad.

Figures show that in 1996, 104 challenged children from Murshidabad were arrested in Saudi Arabia. They were employed as beggars there.

An intelligence official said: 'During the Ramazan month, pilgrims from all over the world donate willingly as they think that whatever they give will return to them as blessings later. The money earned is mostly taken away by the touts who take the girls to the region.'

The families get a handsome amount before the journey for supplying the girl to the touts, he added.

The passports of these women show them to be residents of either Bihar or Assam. Those with valid passports are offered a tourist visa for a week to travel to Saudi Arabia.

After it expires, they stay over in the United Arab Emirates illegally.

Having spent the holy month begging in Mecca and Medina, many of the women court arrest. They spend a short term in jail before being handed back to the Indian authorities. They are then flown back.

Their money is transacted through hawala channels.

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