Within a month of catching wind of a human trafficking racket covering Maharashtra and Gujarat, the city police have arrested all seven accused; they would sell women and minor girls from the city to a village near Ahmedabad, which has a female population of only 10 per cent
Last month, a 22-year-old rape survivor fled home to Mumbai from Gujarat and exposed an inter-state human trafficking racket involving the supply of women and young girls from the city and its outskirts to be sold as brides in a village near Ahmedabad, which has a very skewed sex ratio.
According to the cops, the girls were kept in the dark until the very day of the wedding, when they were sold as brides to considerably older men in Bakrana village. REPRESENTATION PIC/THINKSTOCK
Taking swift action, the Pydhonie police had immediately conducted a raid and rescued two minor girls from a similar fate, and now, less than a month later, the cops have busted the entire racket with the arrest of the last absconding accused.
Beginnings On April 17, a 22-year-old girl approached the Pydhonie police and told them that she had been tricked into going to Bakrana, a village near Ahmedabad in Gujarat, where she was forced to marry a 45-year-old villager.
She alleged that she had been sold to the man for Rs 1 lakh and he had raped her and kept her confined until she managed to finally escape. She gave the police details about the racket and the accused, with the help of which the cops immediately raided the village and rescued two minor girls who had been similarly abducted.
Upon investigation, the cops found that the racket was being run by a group of seven, who would lure girls and women to the village under the pretext of getting them a job or finding a marital match for them. Once the girls arrived in Bakrana, however, they were sold as wives to the local men.
“In Bakrana, women form only 10% of the population. Because of this shortage of girls, most men remain unmarried there. Having a bride is a status symbol there, and married men are seen as rich and powerful,” said Senior Inspector Sunil Kavlekar of Pydhonie police station.
Amongst the accused were Kalyan-resident Meera Salve, her husband Dilip and son Trishant. The trio would supply women and girls from Mumbai and its outskirts, promising them jobs or rich husbands. “The couple first zeroed in on poor families and then began to offer clothes and food to them. Once the family began to trust them, they would put forth a proposal of marriage or a job for the girls. Once the parents agreed, the accused would pay them Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000,” said a cop.
Once the deal was struck, the family would call two other accused — Rajendra Waghela and Vajubhai Dogaria, who run marriage bureaus in Ahmedabad and Surat respectively. They would, in turn, contact two agents, Ganpat Patel and Lakhan Pawar, who would search for men willing to pay for brides.
The girls were sold for anywhere between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 5 lakh, depending on the purchasing power of the groom.
Arrests, rescues The first to be arrested was the prime accused, Meera, who initially fled to Dhulia in north Maharashtra but was eventually chased down by the police. With the help of the 22-year-old who had escaped, they also arrested the agent, Ganpat, who confessed and provided information that helped the cops raid Bakrana village and rescue the two minors.
Following this, the rest of the accused were apprehended as well, with the most recent arrest taking place last week.
The rescue operation, however, was challenging in itself, as the locals refused to cooperate. “Our officers were stuck for a day in the village as the locals were not allowing us to enter and rescue the girls. We had to call for additional officers and rescue the girls, who had already been pushed into marriages,” said SPI Kavlekar, adding that the force was now searching for six other girls who had been similarly abducted and sold.
Preliminary investigations revealed that the gang had been operating since the last three years, and had sold more than six girls from Mumbai. Police have booked the accused on charges of rape (IPC 376), kidnapping (IPC 363), wrongful confinement for three or more days (IPC 343) and criminal intimidation (IPC 120 b).