This is a story of two sisters Hasi and Khushi, who lived at Rajshahi, in Bangladesh. Their father had passed away, and mother was working in Muscat. So their grandparents were the only family that they had. Hasi had studied till class X, though Khushi’s education was cut off due to financial problems, when she was in class VII. Although life was difficult, the four of them were somehow able to keep their body and soul together.
One day, Hasi and Khushi were invited to their elder sister’s place, which was at quite a distance from their village. On their way, they met a man who introduced himself as Raju. He was quite friendly, and did not seem unnatural. Although a stranger, there began to grow a bond of friendship especially between Hasi and Raju. Within a few hours, the friendship began to change into love. They exchanged phone numbers and departed for the time being. On their way back from sister’s place, once again they ran into Raju, and once again they walked the rest of the way together, laughing and chatting.
Quite a few months have passed after that. One day Raju proposes marriage to Hasi, and asks her to meet him at a relative’s house. He tells her his decision of completing the legal procedures for marriage that day itself. Hasi agrees, and decides to leave her house without letting anyone know. However, Khushi comes to know of it and insists that she Hasi should take her with her. Finally, they reach the place, but due to some ‘unusual problem’ the registry does not take place. So the two sisters return home, fruitlessly.
A few days later, Raju informs Hasi that he has got a job in India, and that both of them will have to stay in India after marriage. Hasi does not refuse the offer, because her love cannot be limited by geographical boundaries. With the dream of a new family in her eyes, she leaves her motherland and comes to India, along with her younger sister.
They have food together, following which they are served with a rose-scented drink; it intoxicates them and they fall asleep. On waking up, they find that they have been brought to the Indian side of the border, to a place which they later come to know as Budhwar Peth: a place in Pune, equivalent to the G. B. Road in Delhi.
Pune is one of those prominent places in Western India, where human trafficking ismost active. There are more than 5ooo sex workers in Budhwar Peth. Most of these residents had, at some point of time, been trafficked to this place, and many of them have accepted their job at the brothels as their fate. Unlike G. B. Road, in Budhwar Peth bodily transactions take place even in broad ay light. If one moves through this busy locality, one can almost always find women standing in rich make-ups and attractive dresses. Many of them had been brought here from the same place that Hasi and Khushi belonged to.
The police, however, are not at all surprised. “We have often raided the brothels at Budhwar Peth”, notes officer Bhanupratap Bargey. He also reports that almost 70% of the girls are trafficked from Bangladesh and returning them to their homeland after being rescued, becomes problematic for the police. This is because, it then becomes an inter-national affair, added to which are many legal hurdles, overcoming which is quite difficult for these girls. The rest of the girls are brought from the different district of West Bengal.
There is also the barrier of language that the girls have to face. They can scarcely speak in Marathi, English or Hindi. Their language is born out of their native soil in Bangladesh. As a result they are unable to communicate their stories of torture to the police. Sometimes however, things are made easy through the involvement of an interpreter.
But Hasi and Khushi could speak in rough Hindi, so they did not have to face too much problem in communicating themselves. Nevertheless, Hasi and khushi were not kept together. They were rescued from two different brothels. The police found Khushi from the brothel where they expected to find Hasi. Along with her, were about 5 more Bangladeshi girls. Hasi was rescued from another brothel 2 days after her sister was found.
Initially they were residing at a Government-run home in Pune, but then they went back to their family. The case is under trial; Raju has been arrested.
Why is Pune witnessing such an increase in this business?
Officer Bargey says, “Many IT companies and other organisations are budding here. As a result, young people often stay here, alone, for the sake of their jobs”. They are the target customers of this trade. Apart from this, there is the hunger for easy money and glamour. So there are many such people, who accept it when they get a taste of the flesh trade. “But the greatest problem is a lack of co-ordination at the national level”, says Bargey. So, this organised crime is proliferating. He also reported that 27 organisations of flesh trade have been closed down, their licence have been cancelled for being involved in trafficking. This is probably the first state to have acted with such measures.
Surrounded by the Sahyadris, Pune is dotted with several small, big, and medium-sized hotels. There are also massage parlours with people moving in and out constantly. The amount that they charge for 20minutes of massage is Rs. 5000. Hotel rooms are booked for the customers, where girls in miniskirts and strapless tops wait. The rule is that one has to take off his shirt before entering the room for it takes some time to do that, and there is no time to be wasted inside the room. The watch and phone should also be kept outside, for they may act as sources of distraction. On agreement of this rule, one can have his partner to satisfy him for 20minutes.
This high-profile flesh trade is rampant in Mumbai and Pune. Vibha was one such girl who worked at a massage parlour, and was able to come out of the hell by the help of her client. She was studying in class XI, when a relative of her introduced her to a person offering a good ‘job’. At that time her family was in need of money. So she accepted the job, and was taken to the parlour. Everyday clients came into the room and she had to satisfy them. 5000 rupees for 20minutes, 70% of which had to be given to the parlour owner. “there was a man who used to come almost everyday”, says Vibha. One day she told him everything. “I don’t know what he was thinking, but within two days, the police came with the NGO workers and brought me away.” Vibha has taken a paramedical course after that, and is presently working as a nurse.
Police raids are not uncommon in these hotels and parlours. They come and go empty-handed because the parlour authorities are informed beforehand. Hence, all the new girls are taken out of sight before the police reach the place. So naturally, the police are very worried about this issue. But side-by-side, they are also happy because the people of Pune are aware of the trafficking activities. They cooperate with the police and often inform them if they find anything unnatural going on, or if they see unknown faces in the locality. The police have been able to save quite a few girls because of public help. The anti-trafficking unit of Maharashtra and the police organise awareness programmes on a regular basis.
The scenario with respect to rehabilitation is also far better in Pune than it is in the rest of the country. Some of the organisations like the Rescue Foundation and the Vanchit Vikas run rehabilitation homes, where they keep the girls after rescuing them. The girls are taught to sew, make papads, soft toys, jewelleries and such other works here. The government homes are not far behind either. Many of the residents of these homes are happy, and through learning of different works, they become self-dependent.
The other side of the story…
I was waiting to cross the Ferguson College Road; packs of bikes continued to run on and obstruct my path as well as vision. Suddenly, my eyes fell upon one of the bikers: a young boy of about 19, clad in perfectly clean garments. He was wearing a white band around his wrist, and was fidgeting with it in such a manner that is bound to attract one’s attention. I felt that this might be a new way to impress girls.
My suspiscion was not entirely wrong. He was trying to impress girls, but not in the common way that men do. He was a male escort, or gigolo. This is also an active trade in Pune. The police claim that this is also associated with trafficking. Boys of 17-18years of age are trafficked and trained in the job, after which they are made to work. Statistics reports indicate that the demand for male escorts is also quite high, nor is Rs.1000-1500 for half-an-hour a bad payment.
I came to know one such story from the police. It is about a boy of 19 years, with a well-built physique. But he was poor. Through acquaintance, he came to know that he was eligible to get an offer in the film industry. He would be trained accordingly, and might even get a chance to work with Aamir and Shah Rukh. The offer was lucrative enough for him to set his foot into the trap. But he came to realise what his job was after some days: he was a male escort. However, in the end, he was able to come out of the trap and return to his previous life.
This is not a singular incident; such instances are common in the country. According to the police, the awareness that people have regarding the trafficking and trading of women is absent in the case of men. So rescuing them is much more difficult than rescuing the girls. I came to know that those men on bikes, wearing white bands are mostly gigolos. They prepare themselves in such a way that they become noticeable. The bands are a feature from which others can recognise them. The only diffrence with their female counterparts is that they work in the afternoon, when the man of the house is absent. There are women who also call for male escorts ‘only to enjoy’.