It took the Bengal Police little over a day to rescue the Myanmar national and Visva-Bharati research scholar from Talshari in Odisha after he was allegedly abducted by a group of seven unidentified youths from his rented home in Bolpur town on Thursday.
In the process, police may just have stumbled upon a fledgling illegal international trade racket of human hair.
The 22-year-old student, Pannacara Than, was rescued unhurt from the Bengal-Odisha border location by a joint team of Birbhum and East Midnapore police on Saturday. But the stunning revelation came only later when the police realized that the foreigner may have been involved in an illegal trade racket in human hair which involved crores of rupees, sources revealed.
Police have arrested 12 suspects involved in the dual crime of abduction and illegal international trade, eight of whom are residents of East Midnapore district. The remaining four are from Birbhum, three of whom are from Dubrajpur and the fourth is from Nanoor.
The three Dubrajpur suspects were produced before the Bolpur sub-divisional court on Saturday and remanded to judicial custody for 14 days. The remaining accused would be produced in court on Sunday, police said.
Than was rescued from a hotel in the coastal town of Talshari where some of his abductors were also holed up after scrutinizing relevant CCTV camera footage and phone call records. Two vehicles, including the black SUV used for the abduction, and the student’s mobile phone which was snatched away by the perpetrators were also recovered, police confirmed.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday at the SDPO office in Bolpur, Birbum police superintendent Rajnarayan Mukhopadhyay said the kidnapping may have been connected with high-amount monetary transactions of the illegal trade racket. “We are bringing the student in for further examination,” he said, without specifying the exact nature of the racket.
Sources, however, revealed that Than owed his partners in business around Rs 50 lakh in a Rs 6 crore deal, the rest of which he had already paid before.
Than, scholar in Buddhist philosophy, recently submitted his PhD thesis in Sanskrit at Visva-Bharati and was staying in a rented house in Bolpur's Indira Pally area from where he was abducted in a daring manner by then-unidentified youths causing panic among local and international students residing in the area. For obvious reasons, the crime triggered a series of diplomatic protocols between Indian and Myanmar authorities.
Trading in human hair is known to be a profitable business in the international fashion market where India is believed to be a significant contributor, most of which is allegedly conducted illegally. The so-called ‘dark side’ of the business entails sourcing hair from regions “where long, natural hair remains a badge of beauty - but where the women are poor enough to consider selling a treasured asset,” a report in The Guardian states.
Much of the hair on sale comes from small agents who tour villages in India, China, and Eastern Europe, offering poverty-stricken women small payments to part with their hair, the report states. As one importer, based in Ukraine, told the New York Times recently: "They are not doing it for fun. Usually only people who have temporary financial difficulties in depressed regions sell their hair."
Either way, chancing upon the prevalence of the illegal business in Bengal has clearly given the sleuths a whole new dimension to a case that initially came across as a simple case of abduction.