Updated: Jun 2
Over the last few months the police and Freedom Firm have rescued a number of victims from Nagpur’s red light area Ganga Jamuna, three of the victims were minors. Excited about the victories, the police approached us in May wanting to conduct a mass raid in Ganga Jamuna and rescue more minors. We were on board. To ensure the rescue was a success, it needed to be planned and executed with care. The police agreed and we started to organize the rescue.
On May 16th, our team was awaiting the police to proceed with the rescue. We got a call from another team member saying that the police had already started raiding the brothels! They drove into Ganga Jamuna with large teams in their police vehicles, announcing their presence to all the brothels. They immediately burst into several brothels looking for minors.
Our team quickly joined them in the search for minors, trying to make the most out of the situation. Though a few of the victims appeared to be minors (only their school records and ossification tests would confirm their age), we were unable to find a single one of the minors that we had been tracking for days, each victim and their brothel keeper had disappeared without a trace.
After more than five hours, the police and our team had completely searched a large portion of Ganga Jamuna. They
had rounded up a number of people from the brothel; victims and perpetrators. Sadly, we recognized 6 survivors from our previous rescues who were back in prostitution. They had been minors when we first rescued them, but now they were all over 18 and seemingly had chosen to return to the brothels. There is little we can do to intervene further without their willing cooperation.
We proceeded to the police station. The police were able to register three strong First Information Reports against 16 people who were accused of sexually exploiting the women. 32 women shared their statements with the police. The police asked us to identify any victims that could be minors. We gave them a list of five girls that we believed were minors and will be accompanying them for their ossification tests to determine their age.
Experience has taught us it is better to do raids with targeted girls, where strong evidence for their legal cases can be gathered and where survivors can be separated and followed up with properly. In this setting, any young survivors are lumped in with hardened older women in the trade who may intimidate them from seeking help and sharing the truth of any coercion. A large mass raid also allows time for brothel keepers to hide young girls and escape, which could even be the intention in situations where there is corruption and police are taking bribes from the red-light area. In cases involving corruption, there is also the potential for many bribes to change hands to release the women who were rounded up in the raid, especially older women who don't have to go through as many court steps. For these reasons, Freedom Firm generally focuses on smaller raids, but we are still thankful to see police efforts in this region.
Most, if not all, of these women will soon be released and are likely to end up back in prostitution without proper follow-up. However, we hope it is the start of a new life for as many women as possible. We hope that the shake-up of the red light area, and the court cases involving 16 people will cause some to hesitate to continue buying and selling girls in the area.
After reports were filed and statements shared, all the victims were placed in a shelter home in Nagpur. The Sessions Court and shelter home staff requested us to conduct a home investigation for all 32 victims. This is a large task for our small team, but hopefully good will come from it, and some of the women will turn a new page.