Kabootarbaazi: Inside Details Of India’s Immigration Racket

Raj Kumar is a kabootarbaaz, literally a pigeon handler but now the slang word in northern India for those who organise illegal immigration. People like Kumar make money from kabootars — those desperate to get to promised lands where jobs and social security are available. Here’s what this business is all about, in his own words:

You may call me a trafficker, illegal immigrant pusher or kabootarbaaz, but I take pride in my work. Most of us consider our profession as an instrument to level the playing field and bring an end to economic disparity. My clients are largely from rural Punjab or Gujarat, lured by the glamour of a western lifestyle. They approach us by word of mouth. We never make or help make forged documents.

Our services are procuring a valid visa and ensuring that the client reaches the destination, often with the help of a ‘carrier’. After that, how the banda (colloquial for person, here client) dissolves into the foreign country is not our headache. For European countries, barring the UK, we charge around ₹5 lakh. For the UK, Canada and the US, the fee is double.

The payment is made part in India and rest after the client reaches ‘home’. I specialize in Schengen countries. Most of our clients want to go to Germany as their family circle is there. We have mapped lenient or ‘pliable’ embassies. When we find German embassy ‘uncooperative’ in a case, we get the Schengen visa through countries like Malta (the most preferred one), Czech Republic, Spain, Slovenia, etc.

From there, the banda travels by road or train to reach Germany. There are two tricky parts in this game. Not papers, but visa and the immigration. Documents like passport, IT return and PAN card must always be genuine. Normally, embassies suspect young people leaving India for Europe. So, we need a carrier, with respectable track record, to vouch for the client as an assistant or an employee of the traveller (carrier).

The carrier, depending upon our client could be a failed sportsman, B-grade musician, retired Army officer or bureaucrat who has fallen on bad times. I have personally used all these categories of carriers. For a group, since the stakes are high, we first visit the destination country ourselves and go through their annual event calendar. We mark events like a trade fair, local cricket tournament or an Indian classic music programme.

Now, depending upon the pack, we decide how to plan the ‘departure’. If our pack is an athletic looking young lot, we mark local sports events. Else, a business expo or a local music event. The next target is to search for the right carrier to lead the troupe or team.

Here is how it works: I place an ad in newspapers looking for retired officers who are well travelled, and willing to work as partners in a new venture. I then screen the unscrupulous or desperate ones, luring them with a free return ticket to a foreign country, a brief stay and $500. We then disguise our clients as junior musicians, a sports team, or representatives of an exporters group looking for printing tech, and apply for the visa.

The invites are mostly genuine and the carrier has his/her career record to back the ‘team’. Very few European embassies seek personal interviews. Besides, the language barrier works to our advantage. Only in a rare case is an application rejected.

Agent: ₹5-10 Lakh Carrier: $500-1000 plus return ticket and boarding expenses Immigration Officials: ₹25-50,000 Embassy Officials: Unspecified

The next barrier is the immigration desk. There are many agents who try to bypass this barrier to save loose change. This is foolish. Immigration officials, often drawn from security services, can easily tell a genuine traveler from a kabootar. Their fee, called cutsey (probably derived from courtesy), barely crosses ₹50,000.

If you ever come across a case where illegal immigrants or fraudulent travelers were caught at airport, you can be sure that the agent hadn’t paid the immigration desk. Since immigration desk works under CCTV cameras, last-minute deals are impossible or very expensive.

What happens when the banda reaches destination? I told you this is not our concern. But to your information, mostly they contact their community, hide their passports and find local jobs. These jobs could be night shifts at various 24X7 shops, or in remote areas.

When the support is good, mostly in UK or US, the banda hires a lawyer and applies for asylum and, later, citizenship. Some stay there in jobs to later apply for social security number with the help of rights groups. In that case, Canada is the most benevolent.

In other places, the banda can get away by either bribing the cops or by destroying their passports and preferring a jail term while simultaneously applying for social security benefits with the help of rights groups. The real Ram Rajya for an illegal immigrant is not in India, Sirji. It is in Europe. Try it.

(Name of the travel agent was changed to maintain anonymity)

Delhi University

Delhi University Grad Who Cleans Sewers For EDMC

Neeraj Kumar, 34, is a political science graduate from Delhi University. He has a government job: cleaning manholes full of toxic gases and un-clogging excreta-filled sewers.

Kumar’s neighbours believe he is lucky to have found a government job. Few know the ‘shit’ he handles everyday. Kumar wakes up at 6 am and leaves home to work as a beldar in East Delhi Municipal Corporation. “My life is a load of shit,” Kumar tells LokMarg with a wry smile.

I was brought up in a small family at Loni, Ghaziabad, which borders northeast Delhi. My father was in a private job and always wanted me to have a government job. Those days, in our locality it was a big deal for a family to have a member who could secure a ‘permanent sarkari naukri (government job)’.

I was still in Class 12 when the responsibilities to run the family fell on my shoulders; I would spare you the details but we all know it takes no time to lose a lala-ki-naukri (private sector job). Right after my board exams, my father advised me to go through the gazettes that notified various government jobs.

I came across an advertisement by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (it was a unified body then) for the post of a beldar; matriculates were eligible to apply. It was a temporary position, but the advert claimed that the recruits will eventually be merged into regular employment. Hard-pressed for a job, and seeing it as one of best opportunities, I applied, and got through.

Beldar is a common term for manual labourer but little did I know that MCD Beldar is a euphemism for manual scavenger. I had once dreamt of joining the Army and there I was, holding a broom and a khapachhi (long slit-bamboo) in my hands. My brief was to pull out rubbish and excreta from the city drains.

On my first day at work, I felt like crying at the cruel joke. Initially, it was demeaning to perform the beldar work, considering the nature of the job, but my necessity kept me going. There was no other option. I didn’t lose hope. I was confident that eventually I would progress and be promoted to a senior level. Some of my seniors also encouraged me to continue with my education. I thought that if I kept studying, the chances of my being promoted will brighten.

Without losing a single year, despite long hours of work, I managed to secure a degree in Political Science from Delhi University. It has been 14 years since I joined the civic body and almost 11 since I graduated.

I am still waiting for being absorbed as a regular employee, let alone be promoted. Thankfully, I do not have to enter inside the drain. That kind of dangerous work is given to private contractors. But the stench in the drains is unbearable; the toxic gases we inhale throughout the day definitely affect our health; our mouth and nostrils are covered most of the time during work.

No, we do not have any safety gear for protecting ourselves. And if you read various studies on the health hazards in the nature of work we perform, we are prone to severe allergies and skin cancer. When I go back home, I am very particular about not coming in contact with my children till I have had a bath. I do not want to put the life of my family at risk.

I keep reading in the media about the conditions of manual scavengers and hope that the government and the civic bodies will wake up to invest in machines and better technology for the work. The work always begins early in the morning and last till 9 pm.

Yet, there are often delays in our salary as the municipal body routinely runs dry. While I miss my dream, I have come too far to nurse any regrets. Maybe I have got used to it but I believe it is too late for me to find something that would suit my qualification. As a father of two, I only hope they will do well in life and achieve what they want to. I do not want them to settle for a menial job for the sake of a government job.

With editorial assistance from Lokmarg

Ashok Kumar

Ashok Kumar: Accused, tortured, spat out 

The June 22 murder of a Class 9 boy by another one from Class 10 at a Vadodara school is eerily similar to Gurugram’s Ryan School murder of last year. While the focus remains on the schoolboys accused of murder in both cases, the bus conductor accused of the Gurugram horror has been largely forgotten. Lokmarg went to meet 42-year-old Ashok Kumar at his home in Ghamroj village of Sohna Tehsil in Gurugram district. This is what we found.

Barun Chand Thakur’s agony will never end. Not even after justice is served for the brutal, wanton murder of his seven-year-old son Pradyuman in Gurugram’s Ryan International School on September 8, 2017. But what of 42-year-old Ashok Kumar, the man wrongly accused of the murder, propped up and sashayed before baying television camera packs, and subjected to interrogation and imprisonment on the basis of what now has been swept aside as a murder probe gone terribly, horribly wrong?

This is a tale of our times, and that it has been forgotten till major developments take place in the unfolding prosecution of the case is largely a function of the unpeopleness of the family torn apart by botched police work. For Ashok Kumar is no Deepak Talwar. Kumar, a slightly built bus conductor with all the meekness that his poverty marks him with, was freed on November 22 after the Central Bureau of Investigation that took over the probe on September 22 said he was not an accused any more.

He lives in Ghamroj village, a settlement of less than 5,000 people in a rocky barenness that stays sandwiched between the millenial development of Gurugram and the aridity of Mewat district. Ghamroj clings to the nearby forested haven of Bhondsi village for survival, be it a functioning ATM or the nearest post office. As the first anniversary of the beginning of his ordeal approaches, Kumar is not well.

He hasn’t restarted the life his innocence provides. He’s practically bedridden, suffering from severe lower back pain. Laying down in a cot in his little single storey house, he points to the region between his lower spine and hip.

What Happened at Ryan International School? 

Pradyuman Thakur was found murdered in a bathroom of his school on September 8 last year. The police zeroed in on Ashok Kumar, a bus conductor who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kumar has alleged intimidation and torture by the cops who are also at the receiving end of a supplementary chargesheet that the CBI has filed against them, officers named and included.

It took the CBI two days of investigating the crime to conclude Kumar was innocent and that a teenager who reported the dead boy in the bathroom to a school gardener was the real culprit. The Class 11 boy was kept in a juvenile home as per the law but a court last month allowed his prosecution as an adult. The prosecution continues, at a surprisingly good pace by Indian standards.

“There is severe pain in my lower back. It is very hard for me to sit on the floor or to stand up quickly. The doctors have referred me for immediate surgery but I do not have enough money for it. So I am staying home,” he says as the sun beats down on the earthern courtyard of his simple but clean dwelling, a guava tree in the centre providing the only island of shade. Kumar walked free on bail on November 22, a day after it was granted.

In the runup to the bail hearing, residents of Ghamroj started a collection for Kumar’s bail, hundreds and fifties and some thousands adding up to all of ₹2 lakh. He was finally acquitted of all charges on February 28 this year. “Almost six months of hell,” says Kumar. The most difficult phase was Kumar’s remand period with the Gurugram police when they “injected sedatives and brutally assaulted me for a crime that I had not committed”.

Kumar’s skills are limited; he can drive a van or work as a bus conductor. Only, he can’t even do that anymore. “The third degree torture of Gurugram police is responsible for this pain in my lower back and therefore I am unable to do any physical work.

I am completely dependent on my father and wife who are employed in village’s Vivek Bharti public school and earning for our livelihood,” he says. Kumar’s father Amichand enters the conversation: “My son had faced police torture and jail but it has disrupted the entire family. We suspect any stranger we see coming to our house,” he says. “We hope the trial concludes as soon as possible and that the real culprit is proven guilty in court.” Kumar’s father makes about ₹4,000 a month; about the same as his daughter-in-law.

“Besides, there’s ₹1,600 coming in every month because of the old age pension that Ashok’s grandmother is entitled to,” he explains. That’s a total of ₹9,600 to run a seven-member household, including Kumar’s two schoolgoing sons. “The low earnings of our family does not allow us to get Ashok’s lower back surgery done despite its immediate recommendation by doctors,” says Amichand. Kumar’s lawyer, a man who’s fought heroically to save his client, has said he will move court for compensation. But that remains far away, and Kumar remains stricken.

The Ryan School Murder Case on Lokmarg 

Ryan conductor walks free after 76 days in prison

Turn follows twist in Ryan School murder case

CBI reconstructs Ryan School murder

Dramatic twist in Ryan murder; Class 11 boy held


‘This e-Rickshaw Will Send My Children To Schols’

Parveen Bano is 32 and drives an e-rickshaw in Seelampur, North East Delhi, to make ends meet A single parent, Bano drives her e-rickshaw in two shifts so she can also take care of her three children. She wears a hijab that covers her face except her eyes but it is difficult not to see the steel behind the veil.

I originally belong to Badaun in Uttar Pradesh, a place where women are not allowed to have their opinions. They are taught to obey their in-laws and take care of their families all life.

I too was living such a life when one day my husband died of cancer four years ago and soon after I was left to fend for myself with three minor children. The support from my in-laws didn’t last. After your husband’s death, your value is one of a servant in a joint family. They always associate your identity with your husband’s. We were soon made to realise that we were not welcome in the house. I was unlettered and had never worked before. But I felt it was my responsibility to feed and take care of my three children with dignity.

I came to Delhi in 2016 with the help of a relative who got me a job at a garment factory. The earnings from the factory were too little to care of everyone in the house. I have two daughters and a son. I barely used to make money at the factory. The conditions were so bad that I had to beg for rotis to feed my children every day.

Amidst trying to make my ends meet, I met a woman named Suman who used to drive e-rickshaw.I asked her to teach me to drive. She no longer lives in Delhi but I will always be indebted to her for making me economically stronger that today I can even think of sending a child to school.

Being a single parent, I have to not only be a bread-earner but also a homemaker. Driving an e-rickshaw has given me the flexibility to do both. I wake up at 6 am and complete my household chores by 9 am. I cook food for my children and also drop my son to school. I then leave for my work.

I work in two shifts. I come back around 4 pm after collecting my son from school and again leave in the late evening. I work till 10 pm. Once I come back from home, I cook and complete other household chores. With a daily income of ₹600-700 that I make, I pay my rent for the vehicle as well as the house.

If the vehicle gets damaged I have to pay even that from my pocket and always owe some amount to my employer and my landlord. When demonetisation was announced I had a very difficult time and it left a huge hole in my pocket.

But now the things have improved. When it comes to facing retaliation from male counterparts, I have been lucky. Nobody disturbs me in my work. That way I have had some peace in my struggling life.

Amid my struggle, I want to ensure that I send both my daughters to school so that they do not have to beg before anyone or live a miserable life as we do now. Right now, I am capable of only sending my son to school due to the financial crunch.

Although I am usually short of money round the clock, I am happy that I have a respectable job and I am at least making my ends meet. The thought of what could have happened if I did not have this e-rickshaw is scary.

Also at Lokmarg

An e-Rickshaw and one happy migrant

—With editorial assistance from Lokmarg


I'm a proud man, says BSF martyr's father

Krisna Kumar Pandey lost his son Vijay, a 26-year-old BSF constable who made the supreme sacrifice on June 3, 2018 on the Indo-Pakistan border. Speaking to LokMarg at his village Sathgaon in Fatehpur district of Uttar Pradesh, Pandey broke down several times while talking of Vijay, preparations for whose wedding were on when the news of his death came in.

Vijay’s wedding invitation cards had been distributed. There were about two weeks left for the big day and there was a mix of anxiety and happiness in the family. Vijay himself would be coming home in two days. The young members were insisting that a DJ music night be organized before the wedding. The family was discussing how much space the dance stage would need and how much extra cost it will incur… things like that. And then, it was like lightning struck us. God had other plans for my son, Vijay who was posted at the International Border with Pakistan in the Akhnoor sector. High ranking officials who came along with the body bag, told me Vijay was martyred on the night of June 3 when the enemy resorted to unprovoked firing at his post. What can one do? If God wrote untimely death in his destiny, we cannot replace it with marriage. His sisters had bought a sherwani and pagri for his wedding. But God wanted him to don the tricolor. I must tell you about my son’s childhood and how he was inspired to serve the country in uniform. From a young age, Vijay was mighty impressed with Lakkhi Chacha (Lakshman Pandey) who was a Subedar in the Indian Army. Every time, Lakkhi came home on holidays carrying an iron trunk and a blanket, Vijay would spend hours with him. He would listen Lakkhi’s stories about the life inside an Army camp, their routine, their drills, duties. He always wanted to be a soldier. That was his calling from the beginning. Once I took him to the local Dusshera mela, he chose a plastic gun and a tank for his toys. When he was in Class 8, he asked Lakkhi Chacha for his used Olive Green uniform and got it altered by the village tailor for his own use. The village elders were happy to see this passion in him. When he joined the BSF, the entire village celebrated. Today, the whole village is in mourning. That is the strength of a soldier’s uniform. Dead at 26, Vijay is a hero of our village. The officers who accompanied his body were surrounded by all the youth of the village. Nitesh, Virender, Gokul… they all wanted the officers to tell them about the recruitment process of armed forces. There is also a bit of anger in our village against the government decision to announce a ceasefire. You have tied the hands of our jawans while the enemy continues to violate his promises. There is grief in the family but not without a sense of pride. The sweets that were prepared for Vijay’s wedding were distributed amongst the people who gathered here to honour his mortal remains. We are also planning to build a memorial at the same ground where his tilak ceremony was to take place. The father of the girl who was to get married to Vijay came here and said he wants his granddaughter married to Vijay’s elder brother’s son to keep the two families united with a wedding bond. Even in his death, even in this moment of grief, Vijay makes me feel proud. This is a mixed bag of feelings which few will ever understand.

Also at Lokmarg

‘We want Shastri, not Manmohan or Modi’

—With editorial assistance from Lokmarg


An e-rickshaw and one happy migrant

Bhola, an e-rickshaw driver in Trilok Puri, east Delhi, has few complaints in life. Three-and-a-half years ago,  the Delhi government launched electric rickshaws as an environment-friendly mode of short-distance transport. Bhola, then a pedal rickshaw-puller, was among the first few in his slum cluster to opt for the new vehicle.

In hindsight, I consider it was the best decision of my life to switch to e-rickshaw. I realized that I wasn’t getting any younger, and there were three children – two girls and one boy – to feed and educate at home. I mined all my savings and borrowed locally to raise ₹86,000 for the vehicle. On the first day, I found it difficult to manage its speed and manoeuvrability but in a couple of days, I got the hang of it.

The rigour of pulling and pedalling was gone while my income more than doubled. The summer is the worst time for a pedal rickshaw-puller but now the routine is comfortable. I start my day at 8 in the morning. Every afternoon I go to my house for lunch and a siesta for two hours.

After that I get the vehicle charged for ₹120 for the evening ahead. Once the batteries are charged, the vehicle can run for six hours straight. I drive slow and cautiously but there are others— actually many many others, who drive e-rickshaws very rashly.

Most of them don’t own their vehicles and ply on a rental basis. They indeed are a nuisance. But to be fair to them, every extra commuter and an extra trip means an extra buck. In my colony, nearly everybody wants to own an e-rickshaw. Some have left regular security guard jobs to run an e-rickshaw.

For, the money is good. I earn about ₹500 daily. This when I take it pretty easy; others may be making plenty more. Hence, there is competition around busy routes, shopping sites and at Metro stations. There is a flood of e-rickshaws on the road nowadays.

I have heard that on busy routes, where e-rickshaws operate with bulk commuters, they are managed by their own ‘leaders’ who not only manage discipline and turns of the drivers but also dole out regular tip to the local cops. I prefer to stay off from such a rush. I have never paid a single penny to a policeman in my three years of riding.

Owning an e-rickshaw also means I have to pay for the upkeep. Most often, its tyres are very fragile. Then there is the wear and tear on its metal body, as well maintenance of the batteries. Yet, I would say I have little to complain about. I came to Delhi in the 1990s from Bulandshahr in western Uttar Pradesh.

I often talk to my wife about our struggle in the village and in Delhi. This e-rickshaw has changed all that. I have begun to save for a rainy day. I have more time to spend with my family and there are no debts due. I have made peace with my life.

-With editorial assistance from Lokmarg

Uniform Woe

Uniform Woe: ‘Modi’s OROP is a betrayal'

Four years into the Modi government, and some promises remain unfulfilled. The equalisation of pensions of soldiers of same rank and same length of service, or OROP, remains one, according to a section of ex-servicemen who have been protesting against the NDA government’s version of its own campaign promise.

Lokmarg met Major General Satbir Singh, SM (Retd) to find out what these soldiers are so upset about:  Major General Satbir Singh is a disappointed man. But he is far from being dispirited. “We have been betrayed by the Modi government,” the 73-year-old thunders, moustache bristling as his usually gentle voice turbocharges instantly to an intensity that could reverberate across a parade ground. Or a battlefield. Because battle has been joined.

The motto of the Indian Army’s Artillery arm that the general was commissioned into is ‘Sarvatra Izzat o Iqbal’—Everywhere Honour and Glory. That is the objective. “We have been thoroughly let down by the people we trusted and supported,” the retired officer reiterates in the office at his home in one of Gurgaon’s tony residential sectors.

There’s a heatwave on, and his part of the millennium city is experiencing yet another power cut, but there’s no stifling this man, now the leader of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM). The general has cause, for he was there, on stage at a massive rally in Rewari with the great challenger Narendra Modi. This was on September 15, 2013.

Three hundred thousand ex-servicemen were there too, cheering, as the man who would be Prime Minister promised to sort out their pension mess. OROP—One Rank, One Pension— was the catchword that made it to the headlines and the national consciousness in that campaign.

What is OROP?

  • OROP means one rank, one pension; it follows from the officially accepted definition, that uniform pension be paid to Armed Forces personnel retiring in the same rank with same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancement in rates of pension to be automatically passed on to past pensioners.
  • OROP existed since Independence in 1947 till it was ended in 1973 by the Indira Gandhi government.
  • Ex-servicemen and their kin account for about five crore votes; the Congress-led UPA tried to implement OROP in February 2014 but that went into cold storage as soon as elections were announced in March that year.
  •  In November 2015, when the NDA government released OROP, it fell short of what ex-servicemen had been demanding. According to Maj Gen Singh, the OROP announced by the Modi government is essentially a one-time increase in pension and violates the basic premise of the accepted definition. Besides, he says it has a cascading effect on future pensions and will not do away with the fundamental defect in military pensions.
  • The anomalies in the Modi government’s OROP are: using 2013, and not 2014, as base year for refixing pensions, the refixing of pensions according to an average figure for rank and service and not the highest, revision of pensions every five years instead of every year, and payment of revised pensions from July 1 2014 instead of April 1 2014.

Almost five years later and four years of Modi government after, there’s been an OROP, but not in the way it was sought, and not in the way it was incorporated into the covenant of achhe din that the Bharatiya Janata Party made again and again with crores of citizens. What did happen was, first, an inordinate delay in announcement of OROP by the Modi government.

The government was sworn in on May 26, 2014 and approved OROP in the budget that followed that July. As late as December that year, Rao Inderjit Singh, junior minister of defence, reiterated the accepted definition of OROP in reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha. Despite this, the government continued hemming and hawing, and ex-servicemen began their protest at Jantar Mantar on June 15, 2015.

On August 14, a day before Independence Day, Delhi Police cited security reasons and tried to evict the protesters, including old retirees and ex-servicemen’s widows. The action generated severe criticism from ex-servicemen countrywide, including a letter to the President from four former service chiefs who called it a “dismal spectacle”. The next day, Modi spoke from Red Fort, saying in his speech that the OROP issue was “pending”.

It still took the government till November that year to implement its OROP scheme that was unacceptable to the retired soldiers — simply because it did not conform with the government’s own stated definition. “We have been systematically degraded and ill-treated, starting with the action of the Indira Gandhi government in 1973 to drastically reduce pensions of retired soldiers.

Since then, the men who have served their country in the best possible way have been given the worst treatment and denigrated vis-a-vis their civilian counterparts who continue to keep their nests well-lined,” says the general. The movement continued to prick the government. In October last year, there was another attempt to clear the ex-servicemen from Jantar Mantar, a National Green Tribunal order prohibiting protests at the monument the pretext this time.

Lathis were used freely; many of the women were pushed around. Senior officers like Major General Singh—who called the action a “surgical strike” at the time— were among those manhandled. In what could have been the ultimate insult to such a proud Sikh, his turban almost got dislodged in the melee unleashed on the peacefully protesting ex-servicemen and their kin. It’s not just about pensions, the veteran points out.

“OROP is only one of our four basic demands. The other three are establishment of a commission for ex-servicemen, creation of options for a second career because soldiers retire much earlier than civilians, and a war memorial at India Gate.” The OROP protest may have gone missing from the mainstream media and excitement-craving TV channels. But it’s not over.

“Our struggle for honour and our rights will continue. If I die, there are others who will step into my place. We have second, third, fourth ranks,” declares Major General Singh, who’s added the recent decision of opening up cantonment roads for civilian transit to his campaign for honour. Considering the number of ex-servicemen across the country and the local impact they have, these are ominous words indeed for the BJP-led government one year before the next general elections.

Feral Horror

Feral Horror: Sitapur's hunter-killer dogs

is a daily wage labourer in village Gurpaliya of Sitapur district in Uttar Pradesh. His 11-year-old son Khalid was mauled to death by dogs, who locals say have turned ferocious and killed 14 children after the shutdown of an illegal abattoir in the vicinity. Abid recounts the horror of losing a child to feral attack.

It was May 1, a day which several labour leaders tell us is celebrated by all the workers in the world. For my family, May 1 will remain a black day for life. As usual, I had woken up early to reach Labour Chauraha near Lucknow-Sitapur junction in search for dihari (daily work).

I thought I was lucky when a contractor hired me for digging work at a construction site. At around 9 am, my elder son Adil came rushing and panting to me and said that dogs have attacked Khalid. We all know what a dog attack means in Sitapur. They are devils who hunt in packs. They prey on the young who are defenceless. They are not stray dogs anymore; they are killers.

I rushed to the local healthcare centre where my wife Mehzabeen was standing outside the dispensary and crying. Doctors informed us that Khalid was brought dead. My wife was inconsolable. It was the same story. A child is passing through a mango orchard, either to pick the mangoes strewn after a storm or to relieve oneself, and is suddenly confronted by a pack of ferocious dogs. In no time, the child is mauled and by the time villagers arrive with sticks to save the victim, the child is severely injured.

Most often, they die on way to hospital. That day too, Khalid had gone to collect raw mangoes after a storm the previous night. After all, most children his age are greedy for such bounty. Eyewitnesses say they heard his cries for help and saw him trying to climb a tree but the dogs bit him and pulled him down. By the time, help came, he was lying on the ground.

The mango tree still has his bloodstains. Just think about it, a father learning of such a death of his son! Khalid  was the 14th victim in the area by last count. And the deaths haven’t stopped since. My village wears a haunted look today. There are no children playing outside as parents lock them at home. My other five children, Rukhsana, Majid, Adil, Aquib and Ayan too remain confined to the house.

The government has given me a compensation of ₹4 lakh but my question is that why were things allowed to reach this stage. If the administration had woken after the first death, Khalid would be alive. But Sitapur is not Lucknow or Varanasi, which will make news.

Media persons have since visited this place several times and the administration is now on the guard. Of the compensation I received, I have put ₹2.5 lakh in the bank for the future of my children and the rest will be used to fix our roof before the rainy season begins. We have taken some measures too like putting up wire around the mango trees on panchayat land so that children can stay safe in the area.

Living in constant fear is not the remedy. Allah has taught us to brave hard times by uniting against evil. These dogs are evil and we must fight them unitedly. We have decided and allotted one day of the week for a group each and while others go out for their daily routine work, others help the state teams with local knowledge to prevent a Khalid-like tragedy for other families.

-With editorial assistance from Lokmarg