Book on sting operation involving Arab customers marrying young girls for sex
In his first book, mid-day's crime editor Bhupen Patel lets you in on why a sting demands courage and prudence, especially when it's unearthing the dirt on Arab customers marrying young girls for sex and service
After having toiled for nearly twenty days, I had a breakthrough in the case. This time, one of my informers took me to the address of a qazi at Do Tanki, near Nagpada, who performed nikahs of girls with Arabs.
At the entrance of the dingy lane, we saw a board for Qazi Mohammad Zakaria Oamar, known as Chief Qazi of Mumbai. He was a grey-haired man, whom all the visitors called 'Qazi Sahib'. There was a line of burkha-clad women outside his office, most of whom were looking for Arab grooms.
The book 'Anatomy of a Sting'
It was almost like a darbar. He was busy conversing with one of the girls when we entered. Upon seeing us, Zakaria pulled down his specs to the edge of his nose and asked 'Boliye, janab?' Before we could reply, he picked up a metal box from the wooden table on his side, removed a paan from it and put it in his mouth. We told him that one of our female friends wanted to marry an Arab and asked if he would help her find a groom.
The Arab and qazi caught on camera
Ashraf [Ashraf Khan, informer]: Unko (female friend) bula loon kal (Should I call her tomorrow)?
Zakaria: Jumma baad mein (After Friday prayers).
Ashraf: Masla aisa hai ki unko yaha ka koi nahi chahiye (the issue is that she doesn't want an Indian).
Zakaria: Theek hai, kal jumma baad aao (Okay, come after prayers tomorrow).
Ashraf: Aapka naam (Your name)?
Zakaria: Mohammad Zakaria Oamar. Passport hai?
Passport to nahi hoga (Does she have a passport)?
Bhupen: Passport hai na (Yes, she has a passport).
Zakaria: Jayegi bahar shaadi karke (Will she go abroad after marriage)?
Bhupen: Nahi, woh char din ka mamla hota hai na (No, but what about the short-term marriages?) Hai kya aisa koi zehen mein (Is there any such matter in mind)?
Zakaria: Haan, hai to (Yes, there is).
Ashraf: Theek hai, teen baje aate hai kal (Okay, we will come at 3 p.m. tomorrow).
I then involved the paper and told the people concerned at work of the lead I had been following. A female reporter would have to pose as the bride looking for Arab grooms.
The assignment was risky and some of my colleagues flatly refused, considering the threat involved. But one person was ready to take on the challenge. It was our education correspondent, Kranti Vibhute. Without giving it a second thought, Kranti agreed to do the assignment. After a brief chat, we decided that she would pretend to be Shabnam, a poor girl from a Hyderabad-based Muslim family. We chose Hyderabad as most girls involved in this racket seemed to be from that city. We asked Kranti to wear a burkha and took her to meet the qazi. By that time, in 2012, there was an ample variety of spy cameras, available in all forms of daily wear, such as tie pins, spectacles, umbrellas and caps.
We chose one which was hidden in a watch.
[…]The following is part of the conversation that took place:
Zakaria: Bambai ki hai (referring to Shabnam) (Is she from Mumbai)?
Bhupen: Mumbra ki.
Zakaria: Bahar nahi jayegi? (Won't you go abroad)?
Shabnam shook her head.
Ashraf: Kuwari hai (She's a virgin).
Zakaria: Kunwari ke liye jab koi shaadi wala aayega tab hoga (Marriages for virgins only take place when someone who wants a virgin shows up).
On realizing that he might have misunderstood us, we changed our statement and claimed that we wanted to find an Arab groom for her.
Zakaria: Party aati hai tab baat hoti hai. Saamne saamne. Do din mein aa jayenge. Hum logo ne Arbon ko bigaad ke rakha hua hai. Rajdoot aur Pals hotel mein shaam ke waqt aise hi ladkiyan bhari padi hoti hai. Woh dedh hazaar, do hazaar mein rehne ke liye tayyar hai. Unka mijaz bigad diya hai. Jab unko dedh hazaar mein milega to mere paas kyu ayenge? Ab woh pehle waali baat nahi rahi. Zyada karke sab cheez apna bhaav gira diye (Discussions take place face-to-face when parties arrive. We have spoiled the Arabs. Every evening women like this can be found at Rajdoot and Pals hotels. They are ready to stay for Rs 1500-2000. Their nature has been ruined. When they can get someone for Rs 1500 then why will they come to me? It isn't like it was before.)
Bhupen (referring to Arabs): Lekin kitna waqt lagega? Aate rehte hai aapke paas (How long will it take? Do they keep coming to you)?
Zakaria: Aate hi rehte hai. Aa gaye to line se aagaye, kabhi kabhi do-do din nahi aate (They keep coming. Sometimes there's a line, sometimes there's no one for a few days).
Bhupen: Lekin mahine bhar se pehle hoga (Will it be done in a month)?
Zakaria: Mahine bhar se pehle hi ho jayega. Jaise ayenge phone karunga, ghanta do ghanta pehle (Yes. I will call a few hours before they come).
Shabnam: Lekin khula ho jayega na?
Bhupen: Woh pooch rahi hai talaq ho jayega na (She's asking whether the divorce will happen or not)?
Zakaria: Arey woh salaam de ke chale jaate hai (They just say goodbye and leave).
Bhupen: Talaq ke liye idhar hi aate hai (Do they come here for the divorce)?
Zakaria: Zaban se bol diya, ho gaya (They just say the words and it is done).
We called up Qazi Zakaria the next day to find out if he had received any suitable proposals for Shabnam.
Zakaria called us to his office, informing us that some Arabs were about to visit him in a while and that we should bring Shabnam with us, so that the bride and groom could see each other. We could not afford to go wrong here. This would give us the evidence needed to print this story. Before leaving our office, Kranti and I rehearsed to make sure we were on the same page. I had asked Kranti to give me a puzzled look whenever she had no answers for whatever the Arabs or Zakaria asked. This was also going to be one of the riskiest moments of the operation. There were lots of ifs and buts for which we had no answers. We had no idea of the number of people that were going to be present and we were not prepared in case any of the men chose Kranti. I called Ashraf and informed him about Zakaria's call to reach his office on short notice. 'Dost ko lekar aana' (Bring your friend),
I told him over the phone. 'Who is this friend?' Kranti asked me. To avoid the question, I pretended to receive a call.
Earlier, Ashraf and I had decided on some secret code words. 'Dost' was the code word for his licensed revolver, which he almost always carried on him. I did not want to tell Kranti this since it would lead to unnecessary panic.
We picked up Ashraf and reached Zakaria's office. When we entered the room, we saw three Arab men sitting along with three girls, the qazi and an assistant. After Kranti took a seat, she was asked to remove her niqab for the Arabs to have a look at her. I had told Ashraf that in case any Arab chose Kranti, we would take her out on the pretext of buying her something and escape. Also, if anything went wrong, he would use his 'dost' to scare off people.
The Arabs looked at the girls and asked us questions in Arabic, which were translated for us by Zakaria.
Arab 1: First, tell me your relationship with this girl?
Arab 2: Are you married to her? Is she married?
Bhupen: She is a friend.
Kranti was a bit taken aback at the line of questioning.
I was scared that they would actually choose her. But we chose to stay calm and wait till they said anything.
The men continued asking more questions. After the sixth one, one of the Arab men shifted his focus to another girl.
Arab 3: What is her name? How old is she?
Zakaria interrupted the Arab and whispered something in his ear, then added: There are the three girls. There are five girls in all. But you see these now. One girl is from Grant Road, one from Bombay Central.
After a discussion with the Arabs, Zakaria informed one of the girls in her mid-twenties that the man had chosen her.
This is an edited extract from The Anatomy of a Sting by Bhupen Patel, available now through Penguin Random House India
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