Rs 27 Lakh in 24 Hrs: A Conman’s Coffer and Blown Cover

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On 13 May, a video surfaced on social media sites and evoked a sentimental storm after a man shared his lockdown sob story. Terming NGOs and Trusts as indifferent to his case, his coffer soon got brimmed with donations, before some alert community watchers busted his myth.

IT’S not always that banker Basit Bhat would move to tears by donation appeals doing rounds on social media these days. But on May 13, he literally cried like a baby hearing a father huddled by his young children saying, “We’re surviving on water”.

The 30-year-old Srinagar resident at once donated a decent amount to the man’s account.

What felt like a small relieving moment for doing his bit for the distressed family soon made him feel sorry over the state of affairs.

“I was taken aback when I saw people claiming that the man had made it up and that he’s a habitual offender,” Bhat said. “Let’s forget about the donation I made, I feel for his kids whom he made the pity showpieces for his wicked gains.”

Bhat is feeling more dismayed, than betrayed over the turn of events. But he isn’t alone.

As the video went viral on social media on May 13, and evoked an overwhelming response, Mushtaq Khan from Lal Bazaar risked his safety on the strictly manned streets to deliver food items to the man’s family putting up in a rented accommodation at Hawal, Srinagar.

“Our community is not new to conmen and their games,” Khan, a cloth merchant, said. “But the manner this man played with our emotions set a new low in the society.”

It was because of the man’s emotional wordplay that within 24 hours, he received Rs 27 lakh in his account.

“Such a massive donation shows if people will come together and strengthen local bait-ul-maals, half of our destitution will be over,” said Mohammad Abubakar, a resident of HMT Srinagar.

‘His entire Mohalla is into begging’

Identifying himself as Shabir Ahmad Shah, S/o Abdul Gaffar Shah, R/o Gund Momin, Vilgam, Kupwara in the video, the man shuttles between Srinagar and Kupwara with his family.

In his native village, Mohammad Yaseen, BDC Chairman Vilgam, told Kashmir Observer that the man isn’t so poor that his family will go without food for days.

“I know him personally,” Yaseen said. “Begging is his profession. Not only him, his entire Mohalla is into begging.”

Many people in his village, Yaseen continued, are living in temporary tin-sheds.

“We’ve many charitable trusts operating in the district and people also take care of them,” he said. “However, it’s unfortunate he and his ilk have made begging a profession.”

Ashiq Hussain, Tehsildar Vilgam, echoed Yaseen’s view.

Hussain told Kashmir Observer that the man is Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) card-holder, making him the ‘poorest of the poor’ entitled for highly subsidised food.

“His new single-storied house is under-construction in the village,” Tehsildar Vilgam informed. “He collects donation for a charitable trust in Srinagar in his personal van.”

People, Hussain said, aren’t questioning his poverty, “but they’re hurt, as the conman lied to them, and resorted to a fraud.”

Alerted NGOs

Following the video, an NGO actively working in Srinagar carried a quick research and refuted the claims of the man, whose family they’ve been feeding regularly.

“I myself provided a month-long food kit comprising of all essential items to him on May 2,” said Showkat Ahmad Raja, an official from Aash Charitable Trust. “Even then, we were surprised to see his audacity to come up with that misleading video and fake his case.”

Three other trusts, namely Aathrout, Tawheed Forum and Muslim Baitulmaal operating in the city, also refuted Shah’s false claims.

“We’ve a fact-checking team on ground, who verified the claims of the person,” said Bashir Ahmad, an official from the Aathrout Charitable Trust. “I can tell you honestly that the accused fooled people. He was provided every sort of help by many charitable organizations.”

After the man’s cover was blown by the NGOs, people demanded penal action against him, besides “his account should be seized”.

Journalist’s Role

Following the outrage, a Srinagar-based lawyer Mohammad Amin Najar filed a complaint before Chief Judical Magistrate (CJM), Srinagar saying that the man and his media accomplice are liable to be punished.

“They have willfully and intentionally concealed the real facts and managed to dupe general public,” Najar said in his complaint.

The video according to the complainant was shot by the “Journalist” Aquib Dar, correspondent at Young Bites (News Agency).

“He is in league with the person so as to gain illegally and unlawfully,” the complaint said. “He has played a pivotal role in misleading, defrauding, deceiving and cheating the general public.”

The complainant has sought criminal proceedings against the accused under section 415, 416, 417, 420, 424, 23, 25, 505 (1) IPC & sessions 03 of Epidemic Diseases of 1897, Section 66 D of Information and Technology Act, Section 54 of Disaster Management Act 2005, Section 68-72 of Central Excise & Customs Law (Amendment At. 1991).

“The accused person drives a van for livelihood and also owns some property at his native village,” the complainant said. “He has also previously taken Rs 75,000 from the concerned MLA and Rs 50,000 from his in-laws.”

Probe ordered

Taking cognisance of the claims, CJM, Srinagar on Saturday directed police to investigate the complaint against Shah and his alleged accomplice.

“I’ve perused the complaint and given my thorougful consideration over the contents and the submissions made by the complainant,” the order copy reads.

“In order to ascertain the truthfulness or otherwise, I deem it proper to get the complaint investigated through SHO police station concerned u/s 202 CRPC.”

The detailed report is to be submitted by or before the next date of hearing.”

A Brazen Audacity

Soon after his cover was blown, the accused went to the office of Authrout at Nawa Kadal on May 16.

“He had the same old story to tell, ‘Kids have not eaten anything since last seven days, no one helping him’, so on and so forth,” Mohammad Afaaq Sayeed, a civil society member active on charity front during pandemic lockdown wrote on his Facebook wall.

“He [Shah] perhaps takes the whole Kashmiri population as emotional fools. He has been handed over to the police.”

Growing Paranoia

The case has already cautioned many to be careful about the social media charity works.

“It takes one bad apple to spoil the barrel,” said Zameer Mir, a Srinagar-based engineer who among others donated for the man.

“Since lockdown and during this holy month of Ramzan, people generously donate while taking note of any destitute case on social media.”

But now, he asked, why won’t the Hawal donation case make people paranoid?

“The conman’s case is likely to hit those who are really deserving,” Mir said. “I guess, people will now hesitate while donating to the needy.”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib did his Masters in Convergent Journalism from Central University of Kashmir (CUK) and is currently working with Kashmir Observer as Special Correspondent. He has been contributing stories for the newspaper especially on Politics, Security & defence and has a keen interest in Environment.

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