from special correspondent
Dubai, UAE: Ramadan is the month for fasting and zakat donations for devout Muslims. They dole out alms generously to the needy and the poor.
Begging has been banned by law in the United Arab Emirates. But the lure of zakat money has made people from Asian countries to rush here to strike the iron when it is hot, and thereby strike gold. Hundreds of people come on visit visas solely to be the beneficiaries of the alms-giving deed.
The number of people eyeing a money-making opportunity during Ramadan has been rising alarmingly, said the authorities. A visa, return ticket and accommodation would cost anything like Rs 1.5 to 2 lakh. Still, the 'beggar' visitors have been managing to break even and carry home a potful.
Of course, there are risks involved because of the ban. In a recent crackdown, a person indulging in begging was caught and found possessing UAE Dirhams 18,000 (approx Rs 2.45 lakh). A large number of such persons on visit visa, hailing mainly from the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Assam, were arrested. The minimum punishment for begging is three months in jail.
This racket has been institutionalized by the hawala operators, who help these persons to transfer their earnings to their hometowns to be delivered at their doors through unauthorized, non-banking channels. It is needless to say that the hawala operation is handled by the underworld.
The problem 'begs' the question of how to solve it. Travel agents in India and hawala operators are all hand in hand. No solution seems to be in sight.