The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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8-year-old caught in cross-border custody war

Sitamarhi, Nov. 22: A bewildered look flits across the eight-year-old’s face when he is asked his father’s name. He lapses into silence and shifts his gaze away from the officials questioning him. A woman social worker repeats the question. The boy looks up and says: “Gul Mohammad. He lives in Bengala, Calcutta.”

But a couple from Nepal is telling a different tale. They claim the boy is their son.

Since early October, Mohammad Hasnan alias Shankar has been embroiled in a protracted legal battle between two families from Calcutta and Nepal — one Muslim and the other Hindu — over parentage and custody.

Taking no chances as the dispute involves families of two faiths, the Sitamarhi subdivisional court has ordered a DNA test on the boy.

The eight-year-old is now languishing in a remand home in Muzaffarpur where he was lodged on November 11. “My father is Gul Mohammad and he is in Bengala, Calcutta,” he repeats endlessly.

But Ramdharesh Sahni and wife Megho Devi, residents of Nepal’s Barampuri village, have filed a petition in Sitamarhi court claiming the boy is their son Shankar, who was lost at the Sonvarsha Fair in Sitamarhi five years ago.

“Look at his physical features and look at the photographs. He is my lost son,” a teary-eyed Megho Devi told the court.

She said they had come looking for Shankar after a woman from Sitamarhi, married into a family in Nepal, told them about an orphan who worked as a cattleboy for a Muslim family in Bhalhi.

Sitamarhi superintendent of police Anupama Vilekar said: “Police have received the court order for a DNA test to be conducted on the boy in Hyderabad. We have informed one of the contending parties who lives in Calcutta. Once they arrive, the boy will be on his way to Hyderabad for the test.”

Documents submitted to court by the Calcutta family say the name of the boy’s father is Gul Mohammad and that he lives in Park Circus. A trader, he shuttles between Calcutta and Begusarai because his parents live there.

According to A.K. Verma of Batnaha police station in Sitamarhi, the boy was handed to the Nepali couple when they came to claim the boy. But later, when two members of Gul Mohammad’s family in Begusarai made claims, the boy identified them.

“The crucial question is if he is Indian Muslim or Nepali Hindu. The court has taken the correct decision,” Verma said.

However, there are a lot of grey areas that the court will have to look into.

According to the Nepali couple, Shankar had been missing since the 1997 mela when he was just three. The next time he was spotted was in September this year at Bhalhi village where he begged and did odd jobs before the family of cattle-tenders took him in.

Where was he between 1997 and September 2002' If Gul Mohammad is to be believed, the boy was born in Begusarai and went missing from their house in September. Then how did he land up at Bhalhi'

Other stories doing the rounds is that the boy was left behind by a family of rat trappers. If that is the case, where did the rat trapper find him' Efforts are on to track down the family.

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