Page last updated at 13:06 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 14:06 UK

Father denies Slumdog child sale

By Zubair Ahmed
BBC News, Mumbai

Rafiq Qureshi and Rubina Ali in February
Mr Qureshi said he had been tricked by "fakery"

The father of a Slumdog Millionaire child actress has denied trying to sell her in what he called a "dirty" undercover operation by a UK newspaper.

Rafiq Qureshi said he had not accepted a deal to sell nine-year-old Rubina Ali into adoption.

The News of the World said Mr Qureshi had demanded £200,000 from its reporters, who were posing as a wealthy family from Dubai looking to adopt.

Mr Qureshi told the BBC the media had "made fun of our poverty".

"They tricked us into this fakery but we came out unscathed," said Rubina's father, who is a carpenter in Mumbai (Bombay).

Rubina portrays the youngest version of the leading lady Latika in the Oscar-laden film.

'Great temptation'

The News of the World said that one of its staff had contacted Mr Qureshi and told him he was acting for a wealthy Arab sheikh who wanted to adopt Rubina and take her to live in Dubai.

It said Mr Qureshi's brother-in-law, Rajan More, who speaks better English, had talked of "around £50,000" in compensation.

It occurred to me they were making a deal on my child. I put the phone down and told them we were leaving the hotel
Rafiq Qureshi

The paper said that in a later meeting Mr Qureshi tried to increase this to £200,000 ($292,000).

It said Mr Qureshi was unhappy with the money received from the film and wanted an escape route out of the slums.

The newspaper published photographs of Rubina and her father in a meeting with its reporters.

Mr Qureshi agreed to speak to the BBC News website on Monday.

In a lengthy interview, he said he had been trapped into a situation of "great temptation" but he firmly denied accepting any deal to sell his daughter or agree for her to be adopted.

Rafiq Qureshi and Rubina Ali in February
"My daughter is not for sale," said Mr Qureshi

According to information obtained by the BBC, phone calls were made requesting a meeting with Rubina and her father, and the two parties met three times from Thursday to Saturday.

Mr Qureshi said: "In the phone calls they said a wealthy Arab couple had been moved to see the plight of Rubina on al-Jazeera TV. The sheikh and his wife were very upset to see their plight and decided to help them out. And then we agreed to meet them."

Mr Qureshi said he had met two men and a "memsaab", a term often used by the poor in India for a white woman.

They had three meetings, two in hotels in Mumbai and the middle one on the reporters' visit to the family's hut in the Bandra slums. The last meeting happened on Saturday afternoon.

Mr Qureshi said it was during this last meeting that he was asked to talk to someone on the phone, who thanked him for letting Rubina be adopted.

"They made a call to someone, introducing him as the memsaab's husband, the sheikh saab, and asked me to talk to him. In broken Hindi he thanked me for letting Rubina come to Dubai to live.

"It was then it occurred to me they were making a deal on my child. I put the phone down and told them we were leaving the hotel."

'Self respect'

But the family did stay to have tea. Mr Qureshi said: "At this time they went to the memsaab and came back to us with an offer of 500,000 rupees as an advance. We refused, but they kept saying if we accepted the offer the money can be arranged in five minutes."

Mr Qureshi said the family went back home after this and "when I woke up on Sunday morning the story on me was on all the TV channels".

He said he was shocked to see the three people were actually reporters.

Talking to Rubina was unethical on the part of the media
Priti Patkar, Prerna NGO

"I switched off my mobile phone because I knew there will be calls from the media and I didn't have any faith in the media after what I went through on the weekend.

"They played dirty with us, but we didn't accept any money from them. My daughter is not for sale."

Dinesh, a middleman present at the meetings, said he had spoken to people who transpired to be undercover reporters because of Mr Qureshi's lack of English.

He denied any deal was cut to sell Rubina and also rejected accusations that he tried to convince Rubina's father to accept the deal.

He feared the story would bring a bad name to Rubina's family.

Mr Qureshi's neighbours were surprised at the media claims.

One, Mohammed Shakeel, was outraged: "We know how much he loves his daughter. We may be poor but we have a lot of self-respect. We don't sell our children no matter how big the lure is."

Priti Patkar, a director of Prerna, an NGO for child welfare, said: "Talking to Rubina was unethical on the part of the media.

"Local police and child welfare committees should immediately look into the matter and take appropriate action against whoever is guilty."

Delhi-based Save the Children official, Shireen Miller, said that child abuse and exploitation was a "major issue in this part of the country and there needs to be strict laws to protect such families from agents and middlemen".

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