Too many people fall prey to Hajj-related fraudulence
Like every other year, a good number of people in our country were unable to go for Hajj this year. The teary-eyed faces of senior citizens often get broadcast in the media in such instances, but they fail to reflect the extent of the suffering and anguish that they go through almost every year, their hopes and dreams made to vanish simply because they trusted an agent who betrayed their faith.
I went through that ordeal myself, when “Fiha Tour and Travels” Hajj license no 771, decided to dupe me last year. We made a verbal contract in their Paltan office with someone working at the travel agency, purporting to be one of the directors.
Although I submitted all the necessary documents and paid all of the pre-registration fees within due time, unfortunately, I was nowhere near the Hajj quota due to the agency’s supposed negligence.
I went and sought an explanation from the proprietor of the establishment -- who happens to be the khatib (lead imam) of a mosque. Not only did he disassociate himself with the “director,” but he also misbehaved with us, giving no proper explanation as to why this had happened. After meeting with some people from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, it was clear that I was locked out of performing the Hajj that year.
While I waited for a whole year, I periodically checked the ministry’s website for information and was shocked to learn of a notice published on February 27.
The notice was regarding the number of complaints lodged by victims. To my surprise, Fiha Tour and Travels’ license was suspended, with a monetary penalty of Tk100,000 through a complaint lodged by one of the victims.
It did not end here.
The government also officially informed the authorities of the mosque about the less-than-savoury activities of their head imam.
While I was happy to see the criminals getting punished for a change, I was still worried about not being able to perform the Hajj this year as well. After a quick search, I identified some reliable agencies and wished to distance myself from the one I referred to.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that the authority in charge of making such changes had a stake in Fiha Tour and Travels.
Being denied a transfer from, I was made to go through a gauntlet of bureaucratic hurdles so that I could make the necessary transfer within the due date.
With Fiha Tour and Travels’ license being revoked, their surprising stubbornness for not allowing me to transfer to a different agency, and absolutely no support from the Hajj office or HAAB, my wish to perform Hajj was held hostage by enterprising thugs and thieves who ran the business.
Of course, I had to resort to “cutting a deal” with them, getting them to agree to at least let my parents go.
This is simply one case out of innumerable others. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of similar situations where these greedy agencies capitalize on people’s emotions and trust. For Hajj pilgrims, their problems do not end at pre-departure harassments. These corrupt agencies are all about profiteering, run by men who would sell their mothers as a way to try and maximize their returns.
I, like thousands of other victims, was duped by their empty promises and apparent righteousness. You can add at least 600 more of such victims this year. Although the number will likely have decreased this year, it does nothing to subdue the people’s suffering, most of whom are senior citizens.
We need to bring these criminals to book, if not for the fact that they are making a mockery of an entire religion, then definitely for the simple reason that they are duping people off their money and time.
Makshudul Alom Mokul Mondal is a researcher on socio-economic issues and international affairs.