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Your honour, what is a 'controversial place'?

The Metropolitan Magistrate Special Court at Mazgaon yesterday ordered for the release of nine of the 11 women who were ‘rescued’ in course of a raid conducted by ACP Vasant Dhoble on June 4, and thereafter detained. The release, however, came hand in hand with some comments from the metropolitan magistrate, which raised eyebrows among a population already fed up with rampant moral policing by the city’s cops.

In her order, Metropolitan Magistrate Swarnita Mahale cautioned the rescued girls to steer clear of what she phrased, rather curiously, as ‘controversial places.’


Free at last! Nine of the 11 girls, who were ‘rescued’ in a raid conducted by ACP Vasant Dhoble from a restaurant in Oshiwara on June 4,  were released yesterday. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

The women were detained after Dhoble and his men raided the Masala Curry restaurant at Oshiwara and uncovered an alleged prostitution racket flourishing under the cover of a birthday party (‘Birthday party turns out to be cover for flesh trade racket’ June 6, MiD DAY). All the victims were picked up on June 6, and booked under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956.

Two of the women released — Anamika Rao and Bharti Handa — had approached the Bombay High Court on Tuesday, seeking to have their detention cancelled. The High Court had ruled that it would be premature to rule on the matter, since it was to be decided by the special court the very next day. Two of the 11 rescued girls failed to obtain release, and will continue to remain at the Navjeevan Mahila Vastigruh, Chembur.

‘Controversial places
’While the release of the rescued girls caused relief among their kin, the accompanying comments of Metropolitan Magistrate Swarnita Mahale created quite a stir. She said, “Necessary advice and admonition is given to all the victims not to visit any controversial places. They also [sic] advised to adopt some decent mode of earning their livelihood. Most of the victims have assured that hereinafter they will not work or visit at [sic] any controversial place and take care of themselves and their family and children. Their respective relatives are also advised to take proper care of the victims.”

Whose birthday?
Mahale also observed that most of the women were acquainted with each other and were regulars at the accused, Mahesh Tolani’s parties. She said, “If one sees the background of each victim… it does not appear probable that victims had any reason to be acquainted with the accused. Their lifestyle does not match with their earnings. During inquiry, these girls did not disclose true and complete facts about themselves and their occupations, and some even about their families. But it appears that almost all of them wish to get good money and opportunity of work in films or serials. It was not a birthday party. There is some substance in information received by the police.”

Half-truths
The Magistrate concluded that Rao had visited the party to meet some friends, and had taken her sister, Bharti Handa along. Though Tolani had told Rao that it was a family get-together, there was no family present. The order states, “According to [Rao’s] sister there is no special occasion for the party and her sister is acquainted with the females in the party. This means that the victims are [sic] acquainted with each other even prior to incident. ”The Magistrate also observed inconsistencies in the information Rao had provided about her husband, father, and her expenses. However, she was released for the sake of her autistic son.

On record
The women will be released after their photographs are taken along with their kin who are claiming custody. Their current and permanent residential addresses will be taken down, along with those of their guardians. Various documents were received to verify the exact nature of the relationship between the victim and their guardians. According to the report submitted by the probation officer, which was cited in the court order, the main accused Mohan Tolani organised such parties every second month. The Magistrate pointed out that there were several loopholes in the facts they had provided.

Victims’ profiles

Victim 1
Hails from Delhi and works in TV serials and films, is the daughter of a retired government servant. Claims that she had come to the restaurant for a birthday party. She didn’t want to go back to Delhi with her mother, who has claimed her custody.

Victim 2
Hails from Kalyan and was born and raised in Mumbai. She was deserted by her husband 12 years ago and her two children live with him. Her father is dead. Her custody was handed over to her mother, a retired government servant. According to her, there was no special occasion for the party, and Tolani would regularly host them. Her mother disapproves of her frequent visits to pubs and parties, but she doesn’t listen.

Victim 3
Is originally from Assam, but has been living in Oshiwara for the past two years and is an aspiring playback singer. She was repentant for having visited the party. Her custody has now been handed over to her mother.

Victim 4
Hails from Agra. Her father has passed away. She has been living in Mira road for the past eight years along with her mother and sister. She works as a business development manager in a commodity company.

Victims 5 and 6 are Anamika Rao and Bharti Handa respectively

Victim 7
Hails from Lucknow and is unmarried. She claimed that her father is an advocate and a senior officer in the irrigation department. Her mother however, told the court that her husband is a senior clerk. The Magistrate concluded that the victim was ‘hiding many things’, and has ordered further inquiry before the girl is released to her mother’s care.

Victim 8
Hails from Kolkata, and is married with three children. Both she and her husband, who came to claim her custody, act in films and serials. Tolani was introduced to her as a producer. She claimed she had gone to the party to network with producers and directors, as Tolani had informed her some would be in attendance.

Victim 9
Hails from Bihar. She had gone to Heera Panna Mall at Haji Ali for an audition, supposedly conducted by Tolani. He then called all the girls who came for the audition to his house for a party. In March, she had been to his party in Khar.

Victim 10
Hails from Varanasi, UP and is an aspiring dancer. She allegedly ran away from her home as her parents were forcing her to marry at an early age. Her boyfriend, to whom she is engaged, came to claim her custody. She had told her boyfriend that she was adopted. The court has ordered further investigation into her family background before her release.

Victim 11
Lives with victim 10. Though her parents live in Mumbai, she does not stay with them. She too, was to be married off early. Her father came to claim her custody on the condition that she would obey him. A week before the party, her father had warned her that if she was found indulging ‘in any wrong activity’, she should not name him. Her father said he would surrender her custody to the court if she misbehaved again.

 

Rao and Handa’s joint statement
Our family life is over. It is hard to take care of an autistic child when he does not have his mother around. A cloud of doubt has been cast upon us. Our relatives also have been given the wrong impression. Our marital peace is finished. Life was absolute hell inside the Sudhar Gruha (correction home). In fact, it was a narak gruha. They are ruining the lives of innocent girls in these homes. Injustice has been meted out to us and we are glad to have the media’s support and we hope it bears some fruit.

 

Voice
I can’t recall any Act which defines what a ‘controversial place’ is, though there can be controversial speech or writing
Srikant Bhat, Advocate

I think the moral policing being done by the police is unfair. You feel unsafe, even at posh eateries where you pay extra for what is in reality a false sense of security. What the cops are doing is wrong
Anant Singhal, Photographer

It is common sense that a place without the necessary licences is a controversial place and a place without them is not a controversial place
Ishwariprasad Bagaria, Advocate

The idea that just a place that gives free entry to women is a den of sin is ridiculous. By this yardstick, anyone eating at a restaurant could be picked up for ‘behaving suspiciously’
Ashwini Hariharan, Student 

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