Mumbai: Haj Pilgrims Allege Luggage Ripped Open At Airport In Zamzam Water Search

Mumbai: Haj Pilgrims Allege Luggage Ripped Open At Airport In Zamzam Water Search

Pilgrims returning to Mumbai from the annual Haj have complained about bags ripped open at the airports, apparently by airline workers checking for Zamzam water illegally carried in the bags.

Manoj RamakrishnanUpdated: Friday, July 05, 2024, 10:26 PM IST
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Mumbai: Haj Pilgrims Allege Luggage Ripped Open At Airport In Zamzam Water Search |

Mumbai: Pilgrims returning to Mumbai from the annual Haj have complained about bags ripped open at the airports, apparently by airline workers checking for Zamzam water illegally carried in the bags.

Passengers from Saudi Arabia who landed at the city airport had valuable items missing from the torn luggage. Pilgrims who travel through the Haj Committee of India (HCI) quota, who form the majority of pilgrims from the country, are prohibited from carrying water in their hand baggage or checked-in luggage.

Haj ended on June 19 and pilgrims are now returning to their home countries. Many pilgrims who landed at Mumbai airport during the last few days said their bags had been ripped open and items missing.

Saeed Azhar, a resident of Sambhaji Nagar (Aurangabad), said that when he received his father at Mumbai airport, he found that two of the bags were ripped open. The bottles of Zamzam water, however, were intact. "The bags were cut open to remove the water, but the airline staff have used this pretext to steal," said Azhar, whose father and other family members reached Mumbai on July 2.

They said they lost packets of expensive Arabian dates they were taking back as gifts to friends and relatives back home. Other pilgrims have posted videos of tampered bags on social media and have complained about losing electronic items and bottles of perfume.

Water from the Zamzam spring, believed to be 5000 years old and associated with Prophet Ishmael and angel Jibreel (Gabriel), is considered miraculous and pilgrims carry bottles of the water back home for rituals and as gifts. However, new rules were introduced a few years ago when it was felt that some people, especially those who travel through HCI, were carrying water, sometimes in cans, more than what could be permitted for safety reasons on flights.

Under new rules, pilgrims are handed over five litres once they reach their destination, but are prohibited from carrying the water in their luggage or handbags. Hajis who travel privately also can check in up to five litres of water. The HCI, a government agency, provides cheaper pilgrimage rates and is preferred by most people traveling from India.

Community groups said tearing open bags was too harsh a punishment for violating rules on how much holy water pilgrims could carry. "They can warn the Hajis or charge a penalty, but should not tamper with the bags," said Shams Chowdhury of the Haj Pilgrims Social Welfare Group, a Mumbai-based group that helps pilgrims. "Most of these pilgrims are traveling by air for the first time and probably their only flight ever. They are not aware of the rules. The airlines should enforce the rules, but not by breaking open their bags."

Though pilgrims can complain to the airline and government authorities, they do not because of fears of being punished for breaking the law, said city-based journalist Saeed Hameed who has asked for an inquiry into the complaints. "Most of them have to travel further to their towns and villages and do not have the time. The airline should be compensating the passengers but since it operates chartered flights for HCI, it is unclear who is responsible for the damaged luggage. The HCI claims it is a non-profit organisation and cannot be held liable," said Hameed.

The HCI spokesperson in Mumbai did not respond to our request for comment. Saudia, the airline that flew the passengers, did not state committing to a reply.

Hameed said that the HCI could penalise private tour operators organising Haj if there is any deficiency in their services. "The Haj Committee collects a deposit from private tour operators and penalises them if Hajis complain about the services, but the Haj Committee is not held responsible for its own deficiencies," Hameed added.

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