A real-life racket unfolded in the film city known for some spectacular thespian reel-life plots months before the pandemic became a global meltdown.
Oblivious of Covid and con ahead, the protagonist Naveed, 34, was touring Mumbai with his better half, Sabeen, 32.
It was January 2020, and that sabbatical was planned to cheer up the woebegone wife unable to conceive years after their marriage. The state of childlessness had made her a clinical depression patient.
In the metropolitan city, the couple would bump into a Sopore man named Ayub and thus started the script of what was to become a scandalous real-life flick involving Kashmiris away from their trouble-torn homeland.
Naveed who worked with a Delhi-based Electronics Company met Ayub in the hotel he stayed at Dongri Charnaal area of Mumbai for two months.
The bonding became so quintessential Kashmiri that Sabeen would dial NGOs to evacuate stranded Ayub during the Covid lockdown. She even ensured his safe home return and the man was grateful for the generous act.
From that day, proximity increased in their relations. Ayub was very good with words, she recalls. “He appeared to be a good human and our relations got so good that he used to visit our house with his fiancé over a cup of tea or dinner.”
But come 2021 and an unprecedented decision led the couple in trouble including four men from Uttar Pradesh—Tanveer, Kounsar, Kamlesh and Mohammad Yousuf.
In March 2021, Ayub made an offer that Naveed couldn’t refuse.
He offered him a decent job in Dubai, with a bonus: ‘If you can invite more people to join work in Dubai, I would take only Rs. 66 thousand, rather than the desired amount of Rs. 90 thousand, from you.’
Naveed didn’t doubt his ‘family friend’ running a licensed consultancy. Eager to fly from Delhi to Dubai for giving wings to his dreams, he even motivated few friends from Noida to join him.
While Naveed paid Rs. 36,000 in cash and Rs. 30,000 online to Ayub, he said, Kamlesh paid Rs. 95,000, Tanveer Rs. 66,000, Kounser Rs. 70,000 and Yusuf Rs. 1 lac five thousand.
The day of departure came on 12 September 2021, when Naveed and the group left for Dubai. Upon reaching there, they met their handler, Muzafar.
The “conman” literally confiscated their passports and told them straightaway that the salary package won’t be the same as assured by Ayub in India.
They were lodged in a room where eight people were already living in. The Dubai dream ended even before picking up for the group. They shortly knew that all the hotel bookings and documents were bogus. They demanded to return to India but their passports were held by Muzafar.
In Dubai, they spent around 14 nights “akin to rats”. They were being evacuated from the accommodation from 9am to 10 pm. “I was spending money from my own pocket and that included the expenses of the group because it was I who took them Dubai through Ayub’s consultancy,” Naveed recalls.
Muzafar eventually told the group that the only way to return home was to carry parcels and drop them in the Delhi airport. He also ensured them that no one will be checking them on the airport premises.
“I didn’t agree to carry those packets,” Naveed says. “Who knew what was inside them.”
He looked for alternatives and got involved in heated exchanges with Muzafar. The highhanded handler finally agreed to hand over the passport with one condition: Each person had to pay Rs. 10,000.
Except Kamlesh, all paid 500 dirhams (equivalent to Rs.10, 000) per head and returned India.
Upon landing in Delhi, the group went straight to SDPO Sopore Police office in North Kashmir. Ayub, Naveed says, was operating his consultancy within the jurisdiction of this office.
The officer in charge ensured that justice will be done. “There were already many FIRs registered against Ayub there,” Naveed says. “But later, we were told that the SDPO got transferred and the new officer wasn’t aware of the case.”
Meanwhile, Sabeen approached Crime Branch, Kashmir. “She said her pictures are being uploaded and that’s why I recommended her to visit cyber police,” Peerzada Manzoor, Inspector in Crime Branch, told The Himalayan Post.
At Cyber police, Sabeen says, she was told that Supreme Court has dissolute Section 66 and they cannot help her.
But a Srinagar-based lawyer argues there are hundreds of sections in the Indian Penal Code over which Ayub can be booked and these people compensated.
In order to carry the other side of the story, The Himalayan Post tried to reach out to Ayub. But his phone repeatedly came on switched-off mode. This story will be updated as and when he responds to the media query from this reporter.
But what happened at Mumbai is still giving sleepless nights to the couple who had gone to diffuse some tension only to come back with overburdened lives.