In 2012 -2013, Freedom Firm rescued 43 girls. The following interview is based on two rescues this year that have been of significance to the team.
Q: As an investigator, how do you find and target minor girls for rescue? How did you find Rajni*?
A: Our first priority on investigations is to find and rescue minor girls by searching every corner of a red light area. In Pune, we saw a girl standing in a doorway with her brothel keeper who was calling out to passersby. As soon as I saw her, I knew she was a minor.
However, the more our team investigated, the more doubt there was regarding her age. Rajni looked older, but I chose to stick to my initial impression. I knew she was a minor girl as soon as I saw her, but couldn’t prove it at that time.
Q: What were the challenges of rescuing her? What do you usually face on a raid?
A: There’s always a challenge convincing the police. Further, we’re always wary about how much information we should give out, what details do we keep to ourselves? Almost always, there is a tip-off before a raid, following which the girls are hidden away. Brothels often have secret passages, small compartments and hiding places built into them. Minor girls especially are stashed away like luggage. Sometimes the girls are made to just walk out
of the brothels, run out onto the roads, and disappear into the crowds. When this happens, identifying targeted girls is impossible! There are long waiting periods, indecision due to a lack of compelling information. When things do happen, we have to act with urgency. It all comes together or falls apart at the snap of a finger.
Q: For a long time, you argued that Rajni was indeed a minor? How were you so sure?
A: I think we’ve developed an ability to identify minor girls. We’ve spent a significant part of our lives in the red-light-areas; hours and days of surveillance. The areas we operate in undercover, we know each and every girl by appearance, we know every established brothel in Nagpur, Pune & Nashik. We can identify new places of activity that spring up. We know a brothel-keeper or pimp when we see one. We know when a girl’s new on the line. We know by our expertise and experience; it’s our job.
Q: How did you eventually prove that Rajni was a Minor?
A: Brothel keepers know that it is a criminal offense to use minor girls, and they force steroid injections and hormonal tablets on the girls for their bodies to develop. It works; a lot of girls look 5-6 years older. Rajni mentioned in her statement that she was 15-years-old, but had been given medicines to ‘develop.’ We have age verification tests done on all the girls we rescue; it confirmed her status as minor.
Q: Have you or the team ever been attacked? How risky is the work you do?
A: During rescues, there’s always the fear of being attacked by a mob. It has happened before. The agents surround the brothels, they throw stones. It can be scary. Recently, one of our guys was caught by a goon assigned to watch the girls, eventually he did escape but had been severely beaten. We’ve all had things happen to us, at some point we’ve been caught, beaten, robbed – once even by the girls. We’ve had times when seasoned investigators have
suddenly found themselves unable to walk into the red light areas. This can disrupt weeks of surveillance and planning. It is disappointing when this happens, having focussed so hard on getting these girls out.
Q: There is a surveillance video where you guys are engaging girls, doors break open, police and intervention teams come in, take over. You guys, on your cameras always seem to just get up, walk out the door...
A: The girls are taken into custody. The customers most often get away. We leave immediately as the raid happens, sometimes the pimps or keepers warn us, guide us out. This proves a good cover because we’re not suspect, we’re able to come back and look for girls again. We’ve learned over the years that to be effective we have to hit a place again and again, that’s what it takes to shut down the trade in minor girls. The more footage and evidence we have, the more our legal team can present in court. Prostitution of minor girls is lucrative, we have to give the forces in the brothels reason to realize that it’s dangerous to their interests to deal in minors, that it’s not worth the risk for them. That’s one way we can ax the trade.
Q: In what circumstance did you find Priya*?
A: In Priya’s case, the information was given to us by an officer in the crime branch. Priya’s mother had forced her daughters into prostitution. At the time of rescue, Priya was found terrified and hiding under a bed. She was young - 13 years. The medical report
confirmed her age and we were shocked to learn that she was three months pregnant. Shelter homes inadequately protected Priya and she disappeared. We’ve lost all trace of her, but continue to scour the brothels for any hint or lead. We believe it likely that her mother has taken her back to their village in rural Maharashtra. We’re following any leads we get.
Q: In several cases, girls refuse rescue? What are your thoughts on this?
A: Every minor girl in the profession has been forced physically and mentally. Traffickers and brothel keepers brainwash the girls, they portray a glamorous life, they prove to the girls that they can earn money, be successful, support their families. If a girl refuses to work, they’re beaten, isolated for days, and denied food. Tortured in every way till they break, they’ve been conditioned. They are young, impressionable, and often naive. A lot of brothel
keepers were once trafficked themselves and they know the way things work. The girls, they quickly come to believe in the false life imposed on them. They’re trapped psychologically, knowing society will never again accept them as normal human beings.
Q: What’s encouraging about this job?
A: People are talking about the issue of trafficking, in India and globally. It’s encouraging to know that there is awareness in our society. And as we fight on the front lines, we’re reminded that there are people from around the world praying for us and we’re
*names changed to protect identity