7 women rescued from prostitution in Grant Road, Mumbai
On July 20th, we received a lead about 27 year old Bangladeshi victim Shazia who was being forced into prostitution in the red light area in Grant Road, Mumbai. Shazia had called her husband in Bangladesh to say that she was duped and being forced into prostitution in Mumbai.
It took us a couple days to track Shazia. In addition to heavy rains, she was being moved about to different locations. The red light area in Grant Road operates differently compared to other brothels. The red light area is not in some secluded part of town but right in the middle of the city, next to residential areas and a reputed school. Women will not solicit customers, but their pimps approach customers. The pimps bring them to the brothel, the girls line up, and the customer chooses the girl he wants and they go into one of the rooms.
When we were able to trace Shazia, we contacted the police to initiate a raid, but they were involved in another emergency. They pushed it to the next day. On July 22nd, while we were preparing to rescue Shazia, we got a call from the crime branch. They requested our presence immediately at the Police Commissioner’s office. We went to the commissioner’s office where we met him and members from another police department. A rescue strategy was discussed and we all proceeded to the brothel where Shazia was waiting to be rescued.
A little before we arrived at the brothel, we learned that the upcoming rescue was leaked; Shazia disappeared and the brothel was shut tight. With great disappointment we turned back and decided to try again on July 24th.
On the 24th, the police were again involved in another issue and were not available to initiate the raid. Not happy with this new development, we reached out to another officer who also asked us to wait till tomorrow. We tried explaining the urgency of the situation to the police. Shazia had called us a few times and was crying and begging us to rescue her immediately.
(Freedom Firm always includes police in raids, even though there are sometimes added delays and obstacles, because we do not have legal grounds to remove girls. Police presence offers both protection for our staff and the necessary means to make arrests and follow up with legal cases against perpetrators. Additionally, including local authorities sensitizes local law enforcement to respond to trafficking.)
On the morning of the 25th, we spoke to an officer at the crime branch and discussed rescue strategies. A little after 4 pm, the police and our team raided the brothel. One of the pimps quickly bolted the door from the inside. While we tried to break the door down, many pimps and women escaped. Once the police broke down the door, we barged inside and found Shazia. One pimp ran away, but the police chased and caught him. We also found six other women in the brothel, one handler and two pimps. The police arrested the handler and the pimps.
It took eight hours for the police to file their report and collect evidence from the brothel. Then the victims, the accused, our team and the police proceeded to the police station. The local police did not allow us to meet with Shazia or the other women. We were told to wait outside. This was unfortunate, as it is always our goal to support and advocate for victims throughout the entire process, making sure they have freedom to speak truthfully (away from pimps and brothel keepers) and that they are not treated as criminals. The police did file a First Information Report (charge sheet) and the women were placed in a shelter home in Mumbai.
Freedom Firm's last rescue in this area - Grant Road, Mumbai - was almost 15 years ago, so this was a moment to celebrate. The lack of rescues has not been due to a lack of prostitution, but a lack of the pieces coming together for a successful raid, until now.