Trafficking fears: 196 madrasa boys made to wait for 8 hrs at rail station

Trafficking fears: 196 madrasa boys made to wait for 8 hrs at rail station

Police action followed WhatsApp audio that said boys faced 'conversion'

Trafficking fears: 196 madrasa boys made to wait for 8 hrs at rail station
Nearly 200 young students heading back to various madrasas after Ramzan vacation were made to wait for eight hours at the Bengaluru Cantonment railway station after they got off an inbound train on Tuesday.

The railway police showed the unusual zeal on the basis of a dubious WhatsApp audio message that claimed the boys had been trafficked for religious conversion.  Aged 6-14, a total of 196 boys were travelling in S6, S7 and S8 compartments of Guwahati-Bengaluru Cantonment Express, and were accompanied by 17 instructors, including six women. The WhatsApp message in Kannada claimed that “100 boys from Bangladesh were being taken to Kerala for religious conversion”.

The man in the audio said he received the information from “a friend travelling in that train” and asked for widely sharing the message so that it reached the police, the child helpline and the media. He didn’t stipulate why “Muslim children from Bangladesh” would be taken to Kerala for religious conversion.

But railway police and CWC officials did not take any chances, and their teams lay waiting for the boys at KR Puram and Bengaluru Cantonment railway stations. When the train arrived, the boys and their instructors were stopped for questioning. Senior police officers were seen asking the children where were they from and where were they going.

The instructors told the police that the boys belonged to poor families from Assam, Bihar and West Bengal, and were headed to madrasas in Electronics City, RT Nagar, Bommanahalli and Siddapura in Bengaluru, besides Shivamogga, Tumakuru and Madikeri.

But police didn’t believe them and asked for the boys’ IDs. By noon, the boys were taken to the waiting room where the police and CWC officials got busy verifying their antecedents and checking their IDs. A few boys told the police they had boarded the train at Kishanganj, Bihar.

While the police quickly ruled out the possibility of the children having been trafficked, doubts arose when 35 children of the same batch, who had got off at KR Puram, were brought to the Cantonment railway station for verification, and one of them said he had been hit.

Railway police officials also grew suspicious when 23 children were unable to show their IDs. To ensure that all the cases were genuine, CWC officials requested the police to send the children to the state-run home for boys. The police agreed initially but changed their mind later and decided to let the children proceed to the madrasas.

Sadiq Sharief, a guardian from Kishanganj who was taking the children to a madrasa in Madikeri, said the police asked all the details. “They asked me where I was from, my parents’ name, where I studied, my ID. Ditto with the children. We were questioned at Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada, too, but were not detained,” he said. “It was only in Bengaluru that things took so long.”

Fairoz Pasha, a teacher at Madrasa-e-Arabia Misbahul Uloom in Jayanagar 1st Block, said the children had gone for Ramzan vacation that lasted from May 28 to July 7. Madrasas usually have their annual vacation during Ramzan.

MLA, MLC intervene

As the news about the children spread, their instructors informed local Muslim leaders who rushed to the railway station and explained to the CWC and police that it was not a case of child trafficking. But CWC and police officers were in no mood to relent until they checked the IDs of all the children and their instructors.

Muslim organisations protested outside the Cantonment railway station, accusing the police of harassing the boys just because they were Muslims. Chamarajpet MLA, B Z Zameer Ahmed, and Congress MLC Rizwan Arshad arrived at the spot and convinced the police and CWC officials that it was not a case of child trafficking. They also pacified the children. The boys were released only around 7.30 pm.

N Chaitra, Superintendent of Police, Railways, said: “We detained around 200 children and 17 instructors at KR Puram and Cantonment railway stations as we received a tip-off about possible child trafficking. We checked all of them and later released all of them.”

A senior railway police officer denied that the boys were detained because they were Muslims. “We are just doing our job by checking the children’s details. Only we spoke to them and no one else,” the officer said.