It started with a missed call from an unknown number. The 17-year old girl, a resident of South 24-Parganas district in West Bengal, called back. A gentle voice answered. He was an 18-year-old boy who wanted to talk to her. She began getting calls every few days and soon they become friends.
One day, he had a proposition – he asks her to accompany him to Agra to see Taj Mahal. She agreed to first meet him at the local market the next day. She was alone at home. Her father, a daily wage labourer, worked in Kolkata. Her mother also went out every day for local work.
The young girl went to the market next morning to meet the boy. While chatting with the boy, she was given a soft drink laced with a sedative and whisked away. Unknowingly she had walked in to a trafficking racket. She was drugged, abducted, taken to Delhi, raped for two days, then transported to Agra. The boy vanished. Later, due to a series of events she was recovered from the brothel. This Newsclick reporter was present during the raid and learnt her story.
On that fateful evening, her frantic parents lodged a complaint with the local police when they returned and found her not at home. The whole area was searched but she was nowhere to be found.
When she regained consciousness, she was in a flat in Laxmi Nagar, a busy locality in east Delhi. She was raped for two days by the boy who later disappeared. She along with six other girls of almost the same age group were taken to Agra where there were sold to brothel.
The girl somehow managed to steal the mobile phone of one of the visitors to the brothel and called her mother. The parents informed the cops who traced the location from where the call was made.
A police team from West Bengal arrived and conducted a raid at the brothel along with officials of Uttar Pradesh police and activists from Shakti Vahini — an NGO working against trafficking. The girl was rescued.
She told the police that the brothel has six more trafficked girls from South and North 24 Parganas districts and Sunderban police district. She told the investigators that a couple (later identified as Pinky and Radhey) were the kingpins of the trafficking racket. Those who were arrested in the first raid also revealed the names of the kingpins during sustained interrogation.
A Special Operation Group was formed under the supervision of Sunderban Superintendent of Police (SP). West Bengal had the second highest number of cases of human trafficking at 1255, which is 18% of all such cases in the country in 2015, according to the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data. Assam tops the list with 1494 cases.
“We got few cell phone numbers and began interception calls made by and on the numbers for around a month. Finally, we came close to the network and decided to launch a crackdown. A team was dispatched that conducted raids at several locations in east Delhi with the help of city police and Shakti Vahini. We first arrested a woman called Meena aka Meenu (42) along with two henchmen - Faraq and Kalimuddin Sheikh. During interrogation, they told us about their kingpin Laxmi and Radhey. The couple was frequently changing the location. The duo was finally arrested from Geeta Colony area after an operation lasting over 50 hours. Based on their revelations, a brothel in Agra was raided and six girls (majority of them are minors) were rescued,” Suderban Police District SP Tathagat Basu told NewsClick.
Seven others were also arrested from different locations in Delhi and West Bengal, he said, claiming the operation to be biggest in the history of anti-trafficking operation. He said the kingpin duo is also wanted in several cases in West Bengal. They were living in the Capital under fake names, he added.
Asked about any connections with bigwigs or political backing the duo would have to have for running such a major network, Basu said, “As of now, we have not got any such information. We will produce them today in a Delhi court and seek transit remand. I am sure that will open a Pandora’s box in further questioning.”
The Modus Operandi
There is a shift in the way these trafficking traps work. Gone are the days when young women unknowingly used to walk into trafficking racket on the pretext of a getting a job in big cities promised by people generally known to them.
“Young and handsome men, who are mostly between the age of 20-24 and capable of tricking young women, are now deployed to lure women,” Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini told NewsClick.
But how do they get phone numbers of their target? The traffickers get the numbers from mobile recharge shops that maintain records of the pre-paid numbers that young people get recharged. Once the girls leave the shop, the traffickers pay the staffers Rs 500-1000 per number and get their numbers.
“The traffickers start shadowing girls from here,” he said. “They call the girls and befriend them. After taking them into confidence following a few conversations, the traffickers lure the young girls with promises of jobs, marriage or taking them to visit Taj Mahal and other monuments in big cities. If the woman agrees, she is taken to Howrah or Sealdah stations and put on Delhi-bound trains. These middlemen pocket around Rs 50,000 per girl. The girls are sold in Delhi, Ghaziabad and Agra brothels for at Rs 2-3 lakh,” he said.
“It is a difficult and risky job to raid a brothel and bring the culprits to book”, says Rishi Kant, adding that “while everybody talks about training the police and reform them but there is no seriousness in training the judiciary, specially public prosecutors in fighting organized crime”.
He alleged that investigating officers in West Bengal generally do not get any support from the Public Prosecutors in the district court while traffickers or brothel keepers are defended by a battery of expert criminal lawyers.
“Sometimes, five advocates stand for traffickers in UP and Bengal courts, while victim of organised crime are left to fight their case alone,” he said.
In most of the cases traffickers are found to use “fake identity cards” while taking the girls from source state to destination to evade arrest.
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