Wednesday, August 29, 2012
District administration helps detain girls in brothels
Guria – a human rights organization based in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, working against human trafficking – for the past eight months, was investigating cases of children held captive in brothels by sex syndicates. Guria's inquiry revealed information of about 150 girls held captive in the red-light area of Meerut, in a place named Kabari Bazar. The investigation revealed that children are being held in brothels against their will, and are offered for sex, and that several officers from the state administration connive with those who run the brothels and local pimps.
Guria's inquiry and fieldwork helped them identify five families from Varanasi, Mau, and Gazipur districts, who alleged that their daughters (all minors) were reportedly held in confinement at the brothels in Meerut. Learning from past experiences and information obtained through fieldwork, Guria was convinced that officers from the Uttar Pradesh state government, including the state police as well as the CWC will not help in the mission and on the contrary would try to prevent it; Guria approached the NCPCR seeking help.
The five parents who had already identified their children as detained in the brothels, with assistance from Guria, filed a complaint through email to the NCPCR on 21 July 2012. The complaint was addressed to the Chairperson of the NCPCR. Instead of waiting for a formal reply, the parents and representatives of Guria met the Chairperson of the NCPCR. The Chairperson, Ms. Shantha Sinha, listened to the complaint and ensured all assistance from her office. Once again the parents and Guria met Ms. Sinha on 25 July to ensure that the intervention would not be delayed.
On 27 July, the NCPCR officers reached Meerut and contacted Mr. Ajeet Singh of Guria and asked him to report at the office of the Senior Superintendent of Police's (SSP) office at Meerut. The NCPCR team led by Mr. Sanjay Tiwari, met the SSP, Mr. K. Satyanaraynan, and sought police assistance for rescuing girls held captive at the brothels. The SSP denied assistance on the pretext that the rescue might cause, above all, a law an order problem in the city. The SSP claimed that instead of a rescue assisted by Guria and the NCPCR, the police would take action on their own. However, the officers from the NCPCR insisted, for which the officer said that he would rather face the wrath of the NCPCR, than provide police support. The NCPCR and Guria could do nothing further to convince the SSP that it is his department's legal obligation to assist NCPCR's work and to rescue captive children.
At about 11:20 am on the same day, Mr. Ajeet Singh and Mr. Gopal from Guria along with the officers from the NCPCR once again returned to the SSP's office. This time they met Mr. S. K. Singh, Superintendent of Police (Crime). The officer informed the NCPCR that he is delegated to assist the rescue and handed over to the NCPCR an official letter to Mr. Sanjay Tiwary of the NCPCR, which stated that S. K. Singh would lead the police rescue team.
Then, the staff members from Guria and the officers from the NCPCR went to the police barracks where officers from various places gathered. At about 12.20 pm, the team moved towards the red-light area Kabari Bazar. While on their way, to the surprise of the NCPCR and Guria, police officer S. K. Singh said that the police will take no responsibility for the rescued girls, and that the police will only assist rescuing children from one brothel, and that the complainant in the First Information Statement must either be Guria or the NCPCR, and that the police would not appear on records of having taken action on their own.
This conversation and subsequent conduct of the police confirms that they were not interested to rescue the girls. While the police were getting ready, the Circle Officer (CO) at Brahmapuri, Mr. Vikas Chandra Tripathi, called up the media and informed them that the police is planning to undertake a search at the red-light area. Guria is convinced that the purpose of informing the media was to cover-up the fact that the police have already informed brothel keepers about them searching the brothels on the same day.
Due to this, Guria was compelled to change their strategy of intervention. Guria instructed their volunteers to enter the brothels posing as 'clients' before the police reached the brothels. That the media was informed also posed additional security threat to the volunteers associated with Guria from the criminal syndicate that runs these brothels. It is in fact this prudence in action that helped the action to rescue at least 37 children from the brothels. That the field activists had a thorough knowledge of the terrain also helped in rescuing the girls.
The volunteers had taken their positions inside the red-light area before the police arrived. They had brought along with then flashlights to search inside rooms and cloths to mask the faces of girls who would be rescued, that they could keep their identity away from the reckless media that started pouring into the place as the police arrived. The team of 80 volunteers included 20 women who were also trained to offer counselling to the rescued girls and to assure them that neither the police nor the brothel keepers would threaten them, should they admit their actual age.
Once the police arrived at the brothels, the five families who knew that their children were locked up in the brothels started pleading to the police requesting the officers to open the locked rooms, in which the families believed that the girls were locked-up. The police took no interest to listen. Observing the police inaction, Mr. Sanjay Tiwari from the NCPCR requested the City Magistrate to issue an order to break open the locks to search for girls. The Magistrate refused to act. The NCPCR team was video documenting the rescue. Learning that now the complete lack of cooperation was also documented by the NCPCR, the C.O. demanded that the NCPCR should stop video documenting the rescue. Then the officer slapped the victims' family members in full public view. He then turned his anger to the volunteers assisting in the rescue. He shouted at them and slapped some of them asking them why they were assisting Guria and ordered them to leave, or else he would register fabricated cases against them. The officer shouted literal filth at Mr. Ajeet Singh, accusing him of causing trouble in the locality.
Guria had also informed the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) of Meerut about the proposed rescue. The CWC is a state government agency, mandated to protect the rights of children, particularly those who are in need, as per the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000. The rescued girls were taken to the CWC, where they were made to sit on the floor for hours, i.e. till 2 am the next day. Mr J. B. Gaur, the Child Welfare Officer from the state Social Welfare Department, mandated to be responsible for the welfare of the rescued children, did not bother to help. The officer did not allow the families to meet their children. The children were not provided any food or water, which resulted in the children complaining on the subsequent day – that the brothel keepers treated them better than the CWC.
Guria and the parents were not informed about where the children would be taken or when they would be produced before the Juvenile Justice Board. In the meantime, the police informed that the girls would be produced at Nari Niketan – a Centre for Women run by the state government – where they were able to meet the children at around midnight. The officer from the NCPCR and Mr. Ajeet from Guria requested the CWC to provide a counsellor to talk to the children, and offered the CWC that, if CWC could not provide a counsellor, NCPCR and Guria could do so. The CWC however refused the offer and asked them to return the next morning.
On the next day, when Guria and the NCPCR reached the Nari Niketan, they found the brothel keepers at the Nari Niketan speaking to the girls. The brothel keepers were there on the pretext of offering cloth and food to the girls. However, their intention was to threaten the girls, which they did, asking them to inform everyone who would talk to the girls, that they are not minors, but are engaged in offering sex for money upon their own will. The girls who initially thought that they were rescued from the clutches of the criminal syndicate that sold them for money were petrified to learn that even out of the brothels, their former masters have good connections and contacts. They realized they were unsafe even within the premises of the CWC. Guria and NCPCR had to work hard to gain the confidence of the girls. Meanwhile, the police are dragging their feet to undertake a proper investigation of the case.
The entire case illustrates how welfare legislations like the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children), Act 2000, and the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (amended as of 2006), fails to provide any protection to children or prevent child-trafficking in India. Central to the effective implementation of these legislations is the role played by the local police. Unfortunately, in India, the police are hand-in-glove with criminal syndicates operating in the country. At the moment, there is no functioning accountability framework to deal with this in India. Officers associated with state agencies like the CWC partake in such corrupt and criminal processes, wherein they cash in every opportunity, thereby promoting crime, rather than preventing it. These agencies are also devoid of adequate funding and training to operate. Central agencies like the NCPCR also find their job a hard task, due to complete failure of state-level mechanisms.
The media also are insensitive to the issue. The moment they get information about a rescue, they crowd the place to report the event, not from a true journalistic perspective, but more like voyeurs who wish to sell a few extra copies of their publications or to attract a few more viewers to the television sets. In this context, the entire state apparatus with exceptions like the NCPCR, together with the criminal syndicates work in tandem to victimise children in India.
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