What terror? Sarai Meer is an island of prosperity

September 23rd, 2008 - 3:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Sarai Meer (Uttar Pradesh), Sep 23 (IANS) Sarai Meer in Azamgarh district in eastern Uttar Pradesh is in the news for the wrong reasons - all 13 young men linked to bomb blasts in Delhi call this area their home. But Sarai Meer is also an island of prosperity - largely due to its expat connection - amid glaring rural poverty.Shops stacked with branded goods, a variety of eateries, two Western Union money transfer outlets, nursing homes, dozens of shops selling mobile handsets - Sarai Meer, around 270 km from state capital Lucknow and about 750 km from New Delhi, is a throbbing place.

Luxury cars, mostly with Maharashtra registration numbers, zoom around the narrow streets of Sarai Meer. It accounts for a population of 1.5 million out of Azamgarh district’s four million. Many here lead a lifestyle that most people in nearby areas can only dream of.

Scorpio, Innova, Tata Sumo, Bolero and sports utility vehicles (SUVs) are a common sight. So are luxury brands from Honda and Hyundai.

The source of Sarai Meer’s prosperity is well known. Virtually every family has at least one member working in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates — and sending money home.

One hero of this place is politician Abu Asim Azmi, a Samajwadi Party MP and head of the party’s Maharashtra unit.

“His three-storey house in Mumbai, where a car can drive up to the third storey, is much discussed here,” Basheer, a resident, told a visiting IANS correspondent.

One man who has given notoriety to Azamgarh is Abu Salem, an alleged crimeboss who is in prison and who visited Sarai Meer last year for his mother’s funeral.

“His cavalcade had about a dozen cars and over a thousand people gathered to see him,” remembers Ghulam Rasool, another resident.

Yet another product of Azamgarh is Shabana Azmi, a highly respected actor and politician.

Azamgarh’s people like to travel abroad for work. The number of passport applications received from the district is the highest from the whole of eastern Uttar Pradesh.

“We get nearly 1,500 applications every month. Most passport seekers are from Sarai Meer and adjoining places,” Azamgarh Superintendent of Police Ramit Sharma says.

The region has emerged as an important centre supplying manpower to industries of Mumbai. Two placement agencies here supply skilled as well as unskilled workers, mainly to Mumbai.

Now that the police have started tracing phone calls of the terror bombing suspects in and out of the region, they are faced with some startling facts.

“In such a small area, mobile phone companies make a turnover of nearly Rs.15 crore (Rs.150 million) a month. Over 60 percent of this is incurred in making international calls,” said an officer of the local intelligence unit in the police force.

There are more banks in Sarai Meer than in other parts of Azamgarh. Besides four nationalised banks, there are two local banks. Officials say the average monthly turnover of each bank is Rs.50 million.

On top of that, companies involved in transferring money from other countries do a business of approximately another Rs.50 million a month.

The police have always been interested in Sarai Meer — for a reason that has nothing to do with terrorism.

A small village in the block, Bambhaour, produces illegal pistols almost like a cottage industry. “The weapons made here carry an inscription `Made in Bambhaour’. We are making all efforts to curb this,” Sharma told IANS.

Bambhaour is a village of blacksmiths.

Sarai Meer offers little opportunity to the academically inclined. There is no institution for higher learning. Apart from schools, there are three madrassas.

“The region does not have any degree college. Those interested in pursuing higher studies head for Azamgarh, 30 km away,” said Chandra Shekhar Singh, a farmer whose daughters take a bumpy ride of two hours each way to and from their college.

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