Eye-Witness Account by Greg Malstead
Turbhe, Navi Mumbai, April 30th, 2008. Diana Bar.
Probably 30 girls are scattered throughout the place, some of them dancing, some just standing still. There are 3 waiters for every customer, they all want to shake my hand, they beckon for me to sit in their section of the bar, I hardly make it past the first table.
The music is loud, too loud. Four girls surround me and anticipate my questions, they tell me their names and where they are from. They are dancing, Pooja is the youngest, she's probably 16 or 17, then there's Neisha, Rekha, and Kavita. Rekha's from the Punjab, she calls it another country and speaks the best English. Pooja doesn't talk much but she keeps dancing. As I start giving tips more girls make their way to my table, some of them can't be older than 14 or 15. I ask one of the little ones to dance but she's too shy.
I must admit, these girls are pretty, no wonder this place is popular. We like to think of forced child prostitution in uglier terms; beatings, cowering girls, unattractive except to the perverts. But at Diana, there's a gloss over the whole thing. The girls look like their having a good time, they're beautiful and they're on sale for Rs. 1,300 ($35).
I really don't want to be here. I know what lies beneath the surface, and so the surface is hard to watch. I've got to play the part for now, I finish my drink, give some tips to the girls and rejoin the team at the hotel.
Diana Bar needs to be raided, the girls need to be rescued and the owner and managers need to be called to account for what they are doing. But how?
Last month we found the same thing at the same bar. After approaching the Commissioner of Police (the highest-ranking officer in that jurisdiction) a tip-off happened before the raid took place. All the girls were removed from the bar.
This time my colleague goes straight to the top. He gets a meeting with the Home Minister of Maharashtra, orders are passed down and a senior police official in the State Headquarters orders that a raid be led by police from a neighboring jurisdiction.
Along with the police we raid three places the next day including Diana Bar.
A total of 74 girls were found in all three locations. Pimps, managers, and owners were charged with Immoral Trafficking crimes. A huge blow to the sex industry in Navi Mumbai.
What a victory! Or was it?
The perpetrators don't go down easy. The bar owner, manager, and staff have just been charged with sex-trafficking crimes ... and they're not happy.
Within 8 hours of finalizing the police complaints, all the girls were age verified at a local government hospital. All but one were reported to be minor ... and then released! I guess if you pay enough you can even change a person's age.
Was it all for nothing? What impact can we expect to have when our chances at offering the girls a new life, and an opportunity to testify against their traffickers, are ruined before we've begun?
Then reports started coming in that the Senior Police Inspectors of those three jurisdictions will be suspended, that the bars will be permanently closed, and that the Commissioner of Police will be transferred.
Diana Bar is quite a different place now. There are no girls on sale. Let's pray it stays that way.