On April 29, the police raided a pub in Khar after receiving a tip-off about a flesh trade racket operational there, and detained 16 girls. However, families of many of the detainees say they are just college students or housewives from working class families who had only gone to the pub to have a good time.
They claim they have been tagged prostitutes and consigned to a rehabilitation centre in Deonar to live alongside commercial sex workers and bar girls picked up from Mumbai’s red light areas. Some of the girls are worried for their jobs, others about ongoing exams, and almost all about the social stigma their situation casts on them. Their parents are fretting over the company the girls have been forced to keep. But officials believe they have been ‘rescued’.
On Friday, this reporter visited the rehab centre, where he found many parents in a queue outside the centre, hoping to meet their daughters. “For the last three days, my daughter has been staying with bar girls and prostitutes. Her only fault is that she was enjoying Mumbai’s nightlife. How can that be a crime?” said the mother of one of the girls. Some parents also feel that the girls have been made a scapegoat of the police commissioner’s diktat, cracking down on Mumbai’s nightlife.
The girls were detained by Assistant Commissioner of Police Vasant Dhoble and his team after the foray on Madness discotheque at Ramee Guestline hotel in Khar. According to the case registered with the Khar police, all the girls have been detained under the Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act (PITA), 1956. As per procedure, these girls have been identified as victims of flesh trade who have been ‘rescued’, and sent to the rehabilitation home to ensure that they do not repeat their offence. Officials from the Social Service Branch, headed by Dhoble, have also arrested 12 staffers from Madness disco and booked them under PITA. Around 47 customers found at the discotheque were released after their names and addresses were registered. The mother of another detainee from Nallasopara said, “This (police action) has ruined my girl’s life. She is studying in FY B Com and had gone to the city on the night of April 29 to attend the birthday party of a friend. Now, officials at the rescue home have asked us to get court orders to get her out.”
‘We’re decent folk’
Their kin alleged the young girls were lured to the pub with free entries in order to pull in a big crowd; some were even paid Rs 800-1,000 as incentive to drop by. Incidentally, there were other girls hired by the event organisers to serve patrons. “We are not saying that the cops have raided the wrong place. The event managers could have been involved in prostitution but you cannot blame the entire crowd present on the premises. Cops have released customers who had gone as couples, but they do not realise that some girls had gone with female friends, specially since the entry for women was free. My wife who works as a beautician at a salon in the eastern suburbs went to Madness with one of her female friends. She went there with my consent. Cops have detained both of them under the PITA. We belong to a good family, we have a four-year-old son,” said the husband of a 23-year-old detainee from Vakola who works as a cameraman.
Another victim’s mother, who has a government job, said, “It is very difficult to face society with this stigma. My daughter recently got a job and decided to celebrate with her friend who stays close by. While the two of them were in Juhu, one of their other friends called them to Madness. When they entered the place, cops busted the party and detained them. When I met my daughter outside the court recently, she could not stop weeping. She said, ‘Aai ghabru nako me kaahi kela nahi (Mom, don’t worry. I have done nothing wrong).’ Mother of another victim from Kalyan said, “My daughter is in the catering business. She is the sole breadwinner in the family. I have been doing all within my power to get my daughter out. On the night of the incident, when I called her up to inquire why she was out so late, she told me that cops had arrested her in some raid. Since then I have been running around.”
When contacted, the superintendent of the rehabilitation centre, A A Dighe, said, “Not all the detained girls are linked to the sex racket, but they were on the verge of getting involved in it. We are releasing the victims as and when they are coming to us with court orders. There is one victim whose parents have requested us to release her so she can give her exams, and we are considering that too. We have also released a victim from Nagpur following court orders.”
On April 29, ACP Dhoble received information that several girls involved in flesh trade would attend an event called Bollywood tadka, at Madness pub in Khar. Dhoble, officials of the SSB, and local police sent a fake customer with marked currencies to see if the tip-off had any truth.
The FIR states that the agent managed to fix a girl for Rs 4,000 with the help of the stewards at the pub, and eventually the marked currencies were paid to the staffers. During the raid, they were recovered from the cash counter of Madness by the police team, proving that the staffers were involved in the sex racket, cops said. Around 12 staffers, including the event organisers and the manager have been arrested under the PITA.
IPS-turned-advocate YP Singh said, “The victims should not be categorised with the sex workers. In case they are caught in such raids, it is the duty of the police officer to inform the victim that it is a bailable offence. The cops should also inform their family members and they should be released at the police station level itself. Same is the case with the hookah parlour raids. It is not necessary that all the people visiting the hookah parlour are smoking it. There will be so many customers who would be visiting the hookah parlour only to have food.”
The other side
Reacting to the claims made by the kin of the detainees, ACP Vasant Dhoble said, “If there are so many complaints against me, they should register an FIR.” He added, “Anyway, MiD DAY knows so much about everything.”
He was referring to certain articles published in this paper against him, one of them regarding an incident at Amar Juice Centre in Vile Parle, where he allegedly beat up the manager with a hockey stick and threatened the staff.