Print edition : April 04, 1998

FOR 38 Bangladeshi children who were rescued in Chennai from a "camel racing agent" in September 1997, it has been an agonising six months, stranded in an alien land with no clue about their future. They continue to remain in the care of Udavum Karangal - a voluntary organisation that provides shelter to orphans and destitutes - under whose charge they were placed by the Magistrate at Kancheepuram.

On September 15, 1997, these children and 32 adults, who posed as their parents, were rescued by the police from the Thameem Ansari dargah at Kovalam, 60 km from Chennai (Frontline, October 4, 1997). Abdul Mannan, the alleged agent, was arrested on September 17 from a lodge in Chennai. The children were to be flown to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to serve as jockeys in camel races.

At Udavum Karangal, not many of the children know where exactly they are or even where they come from, but all of them want to go home. Seven-year-old Aabir says, with tears rolling down his cheeks, "Please send me to my mother." Eight-year-old Amjad Hussein, whose parents saw him off with Abdul Mannan in Dhaka, pleads: "Please take me home. I am sure my parents would want me back." N. Anjali, the constable posted to take care of the children, says: "It is agonising to see them cry most of the time thinking of their parents."

Mujibur, 26, one of the persons rescued along with the children, had sold his petty shop to pay the agent. He says: "For taking along the children, our agents gave us a 50 per cent concession on the travel costs and visa fee." Some women, such as Jehanara, Parabin and Khurshida Banu, were told that they had to pretend to be travelling with their "family" when they reached Calcutta or Siliguri. Others were told so only in Chennai. Most of them, lured by the offer of lucrative jobs in Dubai, had paid between 45,000 and 60,000 takas to the agents. Some had even changed their names to suit the name in the passports that the agent had arranged for them.

The Bangladeshi children in Chennai last fortnight.-D. KRISHNAN / AP

Disillusioned with the idea of going to Dubai, they now want to return home even though they had sold whatever they owned - land, property and jewellery - to pay the agent. Some of them are filled with shame and embarressment. Says Jehanara: "Not only were we cheated but we had to pretend to be someone else's wife or husband." They are also worried that the Bangladesh Government might imprison them and that their families would be harassed by those from whom they had borrowed money to pay for the trip.

As soon as the 70 Bangladeshis were rescued and named victims, Christopher Nelson, Superintendent of Police, Kancheepuram, who is handling the case and who is also the District Registration Officer under the Foreigners Act, recommended to the Union Government that they be deported. But till date neither the Government of India nor the Bangladesh Government has taken any decison on this. According to Christopher Nelson, the only development was that an emissary of the Bangladesh Government visited the victims in January.

Christopher Nelson says that as those rescued have been termed victims, the Government of India need only issue the deportation orders and provide the rail fares to take them to Calcutta. "We can leave them at the checkpost on the Bangladesh border," he says.

R. Vidyakar, who runs Udavum Karangal, says that the Government has done little for the rescued people. "We were asked to house the rescued only for about 15 days, until they were sent back to Bangladesh. It is over six months now and there is no sign of their being sent back. It is not fair on the part of the Government to wash its hands of them like this," he said. Repeated requests to various authorities were in vain. Vidyakar says that had he known that the children would remain in Chennai for this long, he would have made arrangements to send them to the school on the campus where they are housed.

The volunatary organisation spends Rs. 70,000 a month to take care of the rescued persons. Money, says Vidyakar, is not the main problem. "If we ask the Government, maybe it will give us some money. But, then, it will forget about these victims altogether. The Government should make arrangements to send them back to their families as soon as possible."

After the news of the rescued children reached their families in Bangladesh through Gulam Mustaffa, who had come to Chennai in search of his lost son, some of their relatives came to Chennai on February 23, 1998 hoping to take their wards home. Among them were Razual Karim, Momotaj and Yakub Ali. Karim wanted to take home his son, sister-in-law and nephew; Momotaj and her brother Yakub Ali wanted to take home her son.

When Anbu Illam, a voluntary organisation for street children that arranged for the stay of Karim, Yakub and Momotaj in Chennai, contacted the Bangladesh High Commission in New Delhi on March 9, 1998 about letting the three take their kin home the authorities at the High Commission asked them to send the photographs and details of their rescued relatives. However, Fr. Arul Anand, who heads Anbu Illam, said that K. Sivaji, Deputy Secretary, Department of Home, Tamil Nadu, refused to release the four rescued persons. "We are taking steps to send all the children to Bangladesh," Sivaji said, according to Fr. Arul Anand.

As their visas would expire on March 21, Karim, Yakub and Momotaj left for Bangladesh ahead of that date with the hope that their relatives would be reunited with them soon.

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