Bangalore does not have a designated red light district unlike Mumbai which has the infamous Kamatipura and Faras Street where sex workers cater to the ‘needs’ of their customers.
But if you think Bangalore is, therefore, rid of this menace, you can’t be more wrong. Officials of the narcotics wing of the Central Crime Bureau (CCB) (under the jurisdiction of which prevention of human trafficking falls) will tell you that it is precisely because there is no designated red light district in Bangalore that a burgeoning sex trade mafia is at work in the rapidly-expanding Bangalore.
It is unregulated; one can’t tell for sure where it is happening. So, neither the police nor the CCB’s narcotics wing officials are sure how to tackle this mafia - except of course through a network of informers, and a good deal of hope that they find the right people to bust the rings.
Nor can they say for sure the extent of money that is involved in this industry of prostitution that is pretty well-guarded by the sex trade mafia.
This mafia is exploiting the pace with which the city is growing; and particularly its floating population - which throws up ‘lonely’ and ‘needy’ customers whose money is greedily eyed by the pimps - is the fuel that propels it.
In all probability, you may have had a brush with the front-end of this mafia. Whether you land at the airport, the city railway station or the bus station; if you are a man and are walking out alone, in all likelihood you will be approached by a person asking you under his breath: “I have everything you need. You just have to ask.” If you enquire further, he may even rattle off the rates.
Many are amused at this.
But behind these “marketing skills” of the pimps is a sleazy industry that begins with women being abducted, cheated or plainly lured by exploiting their financial weakness. And these women find themselves pursuing the oldest profession in the world, in Bangalore.
Narcotics wing sleuths vouch for the fact that the ones who benefit the most are the gang lords who pledge protection to the pimps and their girls while being paid hefty amounts - as good as extortion.
‘Supply’ comes from B’desh
An official of the CCB narcotics wing told DNA that this mafia feeds on the migrant labour population in Bangalore; but a large part of the “supply of girls” is from Bangladesh, from where many a girl are lured to the city on being promised lucrative jobs.
Last November, the Upparpet police received a tip off from among the public that a woman had landed up at Majestic Bus Stand enquiring about how she could make her way to Bangladesh. The strange queries and the mention of the destination led to some travellers informing the Upparpet police.
Within minutes, a team of police officials landed at the bus stand. Detailed questioning of the woman led them to bust an entire prostitution racket involving Bangladeshi women who were forced to ‘work’ in Bangalore by illegally staying here. A team led by the then Upparpet police inspector, Lokeshwar, raided a house in Ullal Satellite Town near Bangalore University and rescued five women including Reshma (name changed).
It was Reshma who informed the police that her handler, identified as Mohammed Babu Bisas, a Bangladeshi national had brought her to city on the pretext of getting her a decent job.
Bisas’ job was to lure gullible girls from Bangladesh and bring them to India and hand them over to various people on a “commission” basis.
An unsuspecting Reshma, who hails from a poor family, had readily agreed as Bisas promised her parents that she would be able to earn lots of money and the duo along with other women illegally crossed the Indo-Bangladesh border in August 2011.
An ‘agent’ helped them to cross the border by charging a fee of Rs2,000 per head, which Bisas paid.
On reaching Bangalore after a week, Reshma and the other women were handed over a man named Umesh, who happened to be a local kingpin of a sex racket in Bangalore. That was when Reshma realised what was happening. But it was too late. She was forcibly pushed into the flesh trade and endured the misery until one of her friends escaped and tried getting back to Bangladesh.
That was the woman who was found by the people at Majestic Bus Stand, asking strange questions. She had escaped from the house in Ullal Satellite Town, which was later raided by the police to rescue five women, including Reshma.
However, it is not only the girls from Bangladesh which are being lured into this sleaze. Police officials say several raids conducted over the past few years in bars, restaurants and hotels of the city have revealed that a string of sex rackets in Bangalore have been luring girls from poor families in neighbouring Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar, mainly from among the migrant labour population. They are found to be gullible in falling for the lure of more money by the ‘agents’ of the mafia. But the money these women get ultimately is pittance, and the fall from grace they experience after the shocking revelation of their predicament dawns upon them, is often too much to bear.
Bangalore, shockingly, is also home to sex trade mafia that is ‘marketing’ girls from Russia, Uzbekistan and the countries that constituted the erstwhile Soviet Union. DNA has learnt that there are rackets flourishing in the city wherein girls from these countries are “much preferred” due to their fair, sharp features, albeit the fact that “customers” have to shell out more.
Sources in the city police told DNA that women from these countries, in the age-group of 23-28, come on tourist visas and earn over Rs5 lakh a month from high-flying sex rings in several Indian cities, and Bangalore is the latest hotspot for this.
Assistant commissioner of police, CCB’S narcotics wing, SV Guled, told DNA about an international racket which is functioning unabated, targeting girls who are being flown in on tourist visas from Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Russia - countries where thousands of families were rendered paupers in the background of the break-up of Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991.
The high-class sex rackets function in the garb of massage parlours, escort services and friendship clubs, which charge exorbitant rates that only members of the so-called upper class can afford.
In November 2011, the CCB sleuths raided a posh hotel in up-market Brigade Road and arrested a 21-year-old girl from Uzbekistan along with four others who were into prostitution.
Guled says the accused, Gulnoz Sabirova, had come to India on visitor’s visa last year but did not return even after her visa had expired.
She is part of the interstate sex racket, being operated across metro cities, Guled said, adding that Gulnoz used to shift her base frequently to avoid attracting undue attention.
The mafia that runs the international sex rings is so deep-rooted in the city that in this particular case, it was the owner of the posh hotel in Brigade Road who was found to be the kingpin of the racket which had hired Gulnoz. The owner, identified as Syed Usman, is still absconding. Guled says a manhunt is on to nab him.
Sex trade mafia nexus with police
A retired police officer, on condition of anonymity, told DNA that several prostitution rings operating in Bangalore are doing so with the consent of the jurisdictional police and the latter have a monthly share from the sex trade mafia.
“The raids, which are conducted at irregular intervals, are an eye wash as the police have to maintain records about the raids to show to their bosses what they are doing to curtail the menace,” the ex-cop says.
Going by the records, majority of the raids on prostitution rackets in Bangalore, reach a logical end - the kingpins manage to escape.
The police arrest only the call girls and the pimps, but the kingpin who runs the shows escapes the dragnet, says another police officer who has been part of many such raids.
In a recent raid on a massage parlour run by a city-based ‘Page 3’ personality, the lady not only managed to escape from the police dragnet but also had a smooth sail to UK by hoodwinking the cops, says a police officer.
“It is evident that the kingpins of sex rackets here have the blessings of some powerful jurisdictional police officials who tip them off in advance about raids as soon as they are planned within the department,” says another police officer.
He credits it to sex rackets resorting to online dealings, which has not only made the business more sophisticated and fast, but has also allowed them to be quietly warned by the ‘insiders’ in police department to alert them about forthcoming raids via coded SMSes.
“These online prostitution rackets are so well-connected that every time they manage to give the police a slip…obviously, there are no free meals; so, protection money is definitely given to some of the cops on a monthly basis,” the officer told DNA.
The police defence
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime), Krishnam Raju, however, refutes the allegations about the sex trade mafia having a nexus with the police. He says the city police are serious on curbing the sex trade and human trafficking incidents in the city.
“The number of cases in the last one year has come down as the (sex) rings and syndicates working in Bangalore have shifted their bases due to us severely cracking down,” he says.
But how he can say that for sure in a city where prostitution is completely unregulated is something to wonder about. The number of cases coming down does not necessarily mean that the activities of the sex trade mafia are on the decline.