Six months after Bharat Rabari left Gujarat on his journey to the United States via the Caribbean, his wife Chetna Rabari on Wednesday approached local police in Prantij with a complaint — that her husband has been missing since February 4. She accused two agents, Mahendra Patel and his aide Johny Patel alias Divyesh, of sending people to the U.S. via various illegal routes and claimed that her husband was the latest victim of their work.
In her complaint, Ms. Rabari stated that nine people, including her husband, had left for the U.S. in the first week of January. Four of them are from the Mehsana district, three from Gandhinagar, and one each from Sabarkantha and Kheda districts. Since February, the group has been incommunicado.
This is the third big incident of human smuggling from Gujarat to the U.S. in over a year.
The police of Sabarkantha district have lodged an FIR under IPC sections 420 (cheating) and 405 (criminal breach of trust), and have arrested Mr. Johny Patel, who is in now in police custody.
They now believe that all nine travellers may be dead, as they have not received communication from U.S. authorities on their arrest. However, except for Ms. Rabari, no other family member of the other passengers has come forward with a complaint.
“As per the details, Johny Patel had promised Bharat Rabari, a farmer, that he could send him to the U.S. on a work permit. The ‘fee’ was negotiated at ₹70 lakh. Of this, ₹20 lakh was paid in advance by Bharat Rabari and the remaining amount was to be paid after reaching the U.S. In January, Rabari reached the Netherlands and then landed at Dominica in February via Port of Spain in the Caribbean region,” Sabarkantha Superintendent of Police Vishal Kumar Vaghela said, after the FIR was lodged.
Ms. Rabari told the police that when her husband went incommunicado, she contacted Mr. Johny Patel, who assured her that everything was well. However, she has still not heard from her husband. “He was in Martinique when we spoke last; thereafter I have had no contact with him,” she stated in the FIR.
Network of mishaps
According to Mr. Vaghela, the police learnt that Mr. Johny Patel worked under Ahmedabad-based Mr. Mahendra Patel, who has a network of agents in districts across Gujarat. Police are on the lookout for him.
Mr. Mahendra Patel is the older brother of Jagdish Patel, who was found dead along with his wife and two children after they were caught in a blizzard while trying to illegally cross the border from Canada to the U.S. in January last year.
In another such tragic incident in April, a family of four from Gujarat — a couple and two adult children — were among eight people who drowned in the St. Lawrence River on the Quebec-New York border when their boat capsized while they were attempting to illegally enter the U.S. from Canada.
The family members were identified as Pravin Chaudhary, a farmer; his wife Daksha; their son Mit; and daughter Vidhi, from Manekpura village in Mehsana district. After the tragedy, their relatives claimed that a local agent had helped the family prepare for tourist visas to Canada, followed by their alleged illegal attempt to enter the U.S.
Last December, a man from Gandhinagar died while trying to cross the ‘Trump Wall’ on the U.S.-Mexico border in a similar illegal attempt to enter the U.S.
The desire to move out of Gujarat and settle in the U.S. or Canada is not new for Gujaratis; there have been phases of migration since the 1960s. However, in recent years, entire families have been willing to undertake risky journeys, crossing the border on foot or taking a boat to reach their destination.
In Gujarat, Gandhinagar and Mehsana districts are considered the centre of illegal rackets. Networks of agents have sub-agents even at the village level to lure farmers like Pravin Chaudhary or Bharat Rabari.
After Jagdish Patel and his family were found dead, authorities from the U.S. and Canada visited Gujarat several times to apprise the local police about the sprawling network of agents who use different routes to smuggle people from Gujarat to their countries.
The local police, however, blame families who pay agents huge amounts of money. “Even if something adverse happens, when people take the illegal route and then can’t be found, their families don’t come forward with complaints. That is a challenge for us,” a senior police officer told The Hindu.