My hands are still shaking, and I feel uneasiness at heart while writing this.

I have studied in India, Norway and Russia- in the top universities of these countries. I started writing for newspapers back in 2005. I grew up in different parts of UP due to my father’s job postings. We moved to Rae Bareli (my home town) back in 1999. Growing up in different places gave me the opportunity to meet people from versatile socio-cultural backgrounds. Humanitarian work and student union activities converted many people whom I got to know as friends, many of them are close friends now. It is a global community. We may not meet regularly but we keep a check on everybody’s well-being.

Given the short background, I must come to the point. My friend, based in Qatar, was talking to me over social media and I mentioned that I should buy a new phone. She immediately transferred the money through Western Union. I visited two branches of Western Union in Rae Bareli but since they were asking for 1-2% of the cash I refused to withdraw the money, since the sender already pays for the money transfer.

Then I called the customer care of Western Union, asking them to check this issue, They asked me over phone calls (all calls are stored in my cloud) about the sender’s information, how I know the person, if I have met the person, for what purpose I am getting this money. Then they told me a few locations from where I could withdraw the money, but added that they are looking into the complaint and I need to wait for 72 hours. I told them please pursue your case separately; I need to take this money today. Still decided to wait for one day and called them again on July 7th morning. Western Union website showed that the money is ready for pick-up. I was told on the phone that I could visit the local Muthoot Finance’s office as it also can provide money from Western Union. I called the Muthoot Finance’s Rae Bareli office which is situated at Canal Road Rae Bareli asking whether I can take the money or not, and if they will charge any extra (again, calls are recorded). I was told that there will not be any problem and I could just come to get the money with a valid ID card. I took my Aadhar and Pan cards and went there. There the representative person asked me about the sender. I told that it is my friend. Then she asked how I know the person. I asked why do I need to tell you this information? I was told that it is a required criterion. The next question was what is the name of your friend? I told that as well. Upon hearing my friend’s name, she said “oh, you friend is a Muslim, there will be a problem.” I told her that I don’t make friends looking at their identity profiles, and if you will live abroad you would understand that you wouldn’t survive if you just focused on making friends from one religion or ethnicity. I asked if my friend was a Christian would the same thing apply? Answer- Yes.

I also asked if it was a company policy. She and other people in the office said yes. Then, I was given separate forms to fill. One additional form was given to mention the names of my friend and me, purpose of the money transfer and contact details of the sender and receiver. Then I was told first that the money will be given by a cheque. After 20-30 minutes I was told that the money will be transferred to my bank account. They kept mentioning that there is some issue because the religions of the sender and receiver are different.  I was upset. I argued who has made this policy? This is ridiculous. Customer care executives although said that religion does not matter for them, however, I was told in person that it is because of the religion this problem is arising. In my last call to the customer care of Western Union I was told that the money has not reached India yet and they cannot do anything about it. My friend called me from Qatar saying that there is no problem from that side. I was refused the payment and sent back home showing the technical issue. Upon returning home when I checked the website of Western Union it showed that the transaction has been cancelled.

This is Western Union’s modus operandi. In popular discourse, this would consider to be labelled as a hate crime.

Why I say this, because-

  • When the sender and receiver both are submitted copies of their government approved IDs why is there a problem?
  • Hawala transactions do not take place through such channels with all details of sender and receiver given and documented.
  • If the religion of the sender and the receiver is same, does it ensure that no criminal activity will take place?

Never imagined such things to happen here.

For now, only adding the screenshots of the Western Union page.

WU1

WU2

Ashish Singh is a doctoral candidate of political science at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia.


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