iconimg Monday, August 31, 2015

Ravik Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times
Kolkata, August 29, 2015
Rana Khan left his home in West Bengal in a huff, distressed by a severe rebuke from him father over a small issue. That was in June, 2014. And when he returned more than a year later, Rana was wise beyond his 14 years, admittedly chastened by an ordeal after crossing over to Bangladesh in search of his aunt’s home in Rajsahi district of the neighbouring country.

“I am so happy to be back. I promise, I will not run away from home again. After I was caught by Bangladesh Rifles I never imagined I will get back home,” Rana Khan told HT at his Uttar Belegachi village after returning home on August 24.

Rana’s travails started when he walked out of home on last year after he was rebuked by his father Habul Khan, a cook. Rana is the eldest of Khan’s seven children -- five daughters and two sons.

Khan said he slept on railway platforms, went on empty stomach, travelled without tickets, got arrested by Bangladesh Rifles, spent nights in police stations, jails and a juvenile home.

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Rana Khan with his father Habul Khan. (HT Photo)

Rana had never been to Bangladesh and only had his instincts to guide him.

He left home on the pretext of going to Taldihi primary school, where he used to study in class V. Instead, he went to the Taldihi station and boarded a train for Sealdah. He was advised by a person on the way that he could go to Bangladesh from Bongaon, a border town.

“From Sealdah station I boarded a train to Bongaon. With no money in the pocket, I slept on the platform on an empty stomach. The next day I inquired with the locals and walked to the Benapole border. At the border I asked the locals, who told me to walk across the fields to reach Bangladesh, and I did. It was easy,” Rana said.

On the way, he had nothing to feed himself except tap water at the stations and the streets.

From Benapole, Rana trudged to Jessore station and spent the second night, still on empty stomach at the Ishwardihi railway station. In the morning he went to Natore, and managed to locate the house of his aunt.

However, after some months, homesickness got the better of the youngster and he left his aunt's home to return to India.

In December 2014, while he was trying to cross the border on foot in the same manner, Bangladesh Rifles personnel nabbed him.

He was first sent to Kushtia-Daulatpur police station and then to Kushtiya jail. Later, he was dispatched to a juvenile home in Jessore.

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Rana slept on railway platforms, went on empty stomach, travelled without tickets, got arrested by Bangladesh Rifles, spent nights in police stations, jails and a juvenile home in Bangladesh. (HT Photo)

Khan had to spend the next few weeks at the juvenile home where none would listen to his pleas for returning him to his home across the border, till he caught the attention of a local NGO, Rights Jessore.

Fortunately, the boy remembered the phone number of his father and his address. The Bangladesh NGO alerted Sanjog, an NGO in West Bengal.

“In January we got a call from an NGO in Bangladesh regarding an Indian boy in the juvenile home. We immediately alerted the West Bengal Task Force that wrote to the union home ministry," said Nisha Mehroon, programme specialist Sanjog.

Rana’s father along with a member of the task force met union home ministry officials. Even Red Cross pitched in to get the boy back home.

"After a lot of paperwork that involved the external affairs ministry and Bangladesh government for months, we came to know in July that Khan will be sent back,” said Mehroon.

Rana’s father said he had “lost all hope” of seeing his son again.

“I first got a call from Bangladesh stating that my child was there. Yet there was little hope. But thanks to the government and the NGO, I have finally got back my son,” he said. Rana’s repatriation order was finally issued on July 12, 2015.

Khan was notified on August 24 and he went to Benapole along with members of Indian Red Cross where Rana was handed over to him.