The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Land, and life, lost at Haj altar

A.R. Rahman is on Haj for the second time. “This year, I got the most precious gift on my birthday, January 6. Allah gave me the opportunity to confine myself inside the Prophet’s mosque in Medina and pray all through the day.”

The music director, on the pilgrimage with his mother, said he wanted to bring his wife too, but their son is too young. (PTI)

Calcutta/New Delhi, Jan. 13: Thirty-one Indians, including a farmer from Bengal who raised money for the pilgrimage by selling land, have been confirmed dead in yesterday’s Haj stampede.

All the victims have been identified, the external affairs ministry said. But a Reuters report quoting the Saudi interior ministry put the Indian toll much higher, at 44.

Abdul Kasim Sheikh, 71, a farmer from Canning in South 24-Parganas, had left for Mecca on December 17.

Today, son Jehangir, 25, fainted as the family received news of his death from the media.

Till 7.30 pm, the family had not received any official word. “We have been making enquiries, but we have no news of him so far. We’re yet to know if he is dead or alive,” eldest son Alamgir said tearfully.

“Before he left, father had fed 500 villagers to celebrate his pilgrimage. He was so happy,” Alamgir added.

Two of Kasim’s four sons have left for Canning police station, 30 km from their house in Bhalerya village, for confirmation of the news.

Another pilgrim from Bengal, 71-year-old Md Safique from Haskhari village in North Dinajpur, was injured in the stampede. The state administration could not reach his family either since the village is in a remote area.

“He (Safique) has been admitted to a hospital in Jeddah with minor injuries. As for Kasim, we’re trying to inform his family through the local police station,” inspector-general (law and order) Raj Kanojia said this evening.

However, local police authorities in Canning said they had no information.

Kasim, who owned eight bighas of land, a pond and fruit orchards, had raised Rs 1 lakh for the Mecca trip by selling a 2.5-bigha plot, some trees and ornaments and through loans, Alamgir said. He had lost his wife four years ago.

Muzzaffar Khan, a member of the All India Haj Committee, said: “We’re talking to authorities in Mina for compensation to families of those killed.”

On January 5, three Indian pilgrims, including a former billiards champion from Calcutta, Mohammed Mustafa, were killed in a building collapse at Mecca.

Among the Indians killed in the stampede, the highest number ' 14 ' is from Uttar Pradesh. Four of the dead are from Andhra Pradesh, three each from Maharashtra and Kerala and two each from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Kasim is the lone pilgrim confirmed dead from Bengal. Two of the victims were based in Saudi Arabia.

The total toll in the stampede, which occurred during the stoning ritual, has risen to 363. The Reuters report said Indians and Pakistanis ' 37 have been confirmed dead ' were the largest groups of identified victims.

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