Brothel owners, corrupt cops nexus strong here

Police deny allegations, say they participate in rescue of sex workers

Raids to rescue teenage girls and young women forced into prostitution at brothels in GB Road are conducted on a regular basis by Delhi Police and NGOs, but not all of them prove successful.

The owners of the property deny that they run a brothel, and the raiding teams also return empty-handed, failing to make a rescue. NGOs bluntly put the blame of this failure on suspected nexus between corrupt local policemen and brothel owners.

“Every raid and every rescue is a huge effort. And yet at times we fail. It is a nexus of brokers, brothel owners, pimps and traffickers, which cannot survive without active support from enforcement agencies,” says Ravi Kant of NGO Shakti Vahini.

They say some policemen from Kamla Market police station in central Delhi leak information to pimps and brothel owners before a raid. “A tip-off is enough for sex workers to be hidden in tunnels that have been created inside the brothels,” Kant adds.

In the past, the Delhi High Court had also referred to the nexus, saying it is enough for police to look into municipal records to determine the identity of people who own the premises.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central) Parmaditya, however, denies the allegations, saying police have been actively participating in rescue and rehabilitation of sex workers.

Police point out that there is reluctance on the part of the sex workers to leave their profession because they are not sure about their future.

“This lack of faith is not in the rehabilitation process, but in its structure. They are not sure of future security since it seems to them that nothing is on a permanent basis,” Parmaditya says. The rehabilitation scheme must be made more effective and sensitive to the mindset of the women, he adds.

Police are also accused of not initiating action despite strict laws. Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act criminalises activities like soliciting for sex, pimping or running brothels. It also says that a client is guilty of consorting with prostitutes and can be charged if he engages in sexual acts with a sex worker within 200 yards of a public place or “notified area”. Taking advantage of this, some clients are also harassed and looted by pimps in GB Road.

“A new law, section 370 of the Indian Penal Code, passed after the December 2012 gang-rape case, has also succeeded in criminalising the traffickers and decriminalising the women involved,” Kant adds.

The accused under section 370 of the IPC are booked for buying or disposing of any person as slave. Most other charges are under sections 366-A (procuration of minor girls), 366-B (importation of girls from foreign country), 372 (selling of girls for prostitution) and 373 (buying of girls for prostitution) of the Indian Penal Code.

Police investigations have revealed that most of the rescued women belong to poor families outside Delhi and are lured on the pretext of getting employment. Due to this a strict vigil is maintained at New Delhi railway station and bus stops near GB Road. “Suspicious people found traveling with girls and young women are detained for questioning. It has led to the arrest of many human traffickers,” Parmaditya says.

But many women end up at brothels, where they are forced into prostitution. Those who refuse to take orders are not allowed to go outside and kept locked in brothels.

“After the rescue operations, they are produced before child welfare committees and courts for taking further course of legal action and their rehabilitation,” Parmaditya adds. Efforts are made for their reunion with family and also to trace the people who brought them to the capital.

The central government has schemes in place which may be availed by the rescued women, although these are not specifically for sex workers. “General schemes such as Swadhar and Ujjwala can also be used by women who are willing to come out of the sex trade,” says Zareen Khan of the NGO Speaking Tree.

Last year, a proposal to legalise prostitution was also put before a Supreme Court-constituted panel. The panel was set up on a public interest litigation filed by the NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan in 2010 seeking to curb large-scale child trafficking. A decision by the Supreme Court is pending. However, in February, in a written reply to a question in Parliament, Union Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi had said there was no proposal to legalise prostitution in the country.

Public health workers want legalisation, saying sex workers usually hide their diseases due to the fear of arrest, making it difficult to limit the spread of HIV and other diseases. But anti-trafficking campaigners say any kind of legitimacy would fuel the industry, leading to a jump in trafficking from rural areas to brothels. 

“Prostitution is an exploitative industry, and legalising prostitution would be equal to legalising slavery. It would give more power to those who exploit sex workers and treat them as commodities that can be sold in the market,” Zareen Khan adds.

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