A teenage girl’s degrading journey from a small village in Nashik to a brothel here ended in February, but no concrete steps have been taken to ensure that such stories do not repeat. Activists alleged that while the brothel-owners and some of their accomplices were arrested, the police chose to ignore a sex racket involving minor girls that is flourishing in the State.
Speaking exclusively to The Hindu in the Dhule Remand Home, where she has been staying since her escape, 14-year-old Anita (name changed) said the main accused, Babybai Choudhary, used to “advertise” that the place had only minor girls. “I used to hear her telling people on the phone that the place is special because she only has young girls,” Anita said. “There was one girl who was 13 and some others were older than me, 16 and 17. All the men who came to Babybai’s house knew we were very young,” she said. Choudhary and her son Ganesh also sold girls in other cities, Anita alleged.
Social activist Pratibha Shinde, now an intervener in Anita's case, decried the police’s investigation . “Anita escaped miraculously and hence could name the people who were responsible. Even then, the main buyer from Mumbai, Hassan, has not been caught. What about the other girls? Why have the police failed to trace them,” Ms. Shinde asked. As per police records 75 minor girls went missing from Dhule, Jalgaon and Nandurbar districts in the past one year, she said. “When Anita was shown some pictures, she recognised two of the missing girls from the brothel. Why are the police complacent about finding the other girls?”
On hearing Anita’s account, it becomes clear that her escape was more a story of her courage and determination than the state machinery’s efforts to rescue minor girls forced into prostitution.
Forced to drop out of school due to poverty, Anita came to Nashik city and worked as a salesgirl in a shop in November 2012, earning Rs. 2400 per month. There she met Kavita Katkande (an agent who has since been arrested), who told her she could get a job in Dhule and earn Rs. 1000 a day. Anita was made to cook on the first day in Choudhary’s house. “There were lots of people, but I felt I could adjust there,” she said, recounting what she calls “the last day of freedom.”
“On the second day when I asked if I had to cook, nobody said a word. Even then I didn’t suspect anything. It was only later when strange men started coming into the house, and girls like me were taken to bedrooms that I knew something was amiss.”
“A doctor would be called, who would inject something that made me very drowsy. But since that day, I protested every single time. I used to hit men, who then complained to Babybai that I was too arrogant,” Anita recalled, and added how the girls in the brothel would be whipped and beaten when they refused to listen to the owners. She drew Babybai’s ire when she refused to wear short clothes. The injections, Anita said, made her put on weight.
But in spite of the constant oppression, Anita observed what was happening around her with great detail. It was then that she noticed that most of the girls were supplied to a man named Hassan from Mumbai. “Girls were made to stand in a line, and he would look at us and quote a price. He never chose me despite Babybai’s requests.”
More than two months later Anita managed to escape, but was brought back by Babybai’s son Ganesh. She was told she would be killed if she attempted to leave again. “I thought I would die in that place,” Anita recalled.
And yet, she managed to escape again in two weeks after Babybai’s 3-year-old granddaughter opened the door by mistake. But as luck would have it, she was noticed by Pooja Patil, a masseuse who visited the brothel regularly. “Pooja promised me she would take me to my father's house, but instead took me to three hotels where she sat through all the times she made me have sex with random men,” Anita said. Finally, Pooja brought her to the Dhule bus stop where patrol police noticed something was amiss.
But her ordeal didn’t end there. Anita alleges that Assistant Police Inspector K. Pawra refused to register her FIR. Instead, he called Babybai informing her that Anita had been caught, thus giving her time to get rid of the other girls. “Pawra kept telling me to withdraw my complaint. He said he would arrange for Rs. 1 lakh from Babybai and I could go home. When I refused he even threatened to kill my father.”
It was then that Dhule Deputy SP Monika Raut took over the case and arrested Babybai, her son Ganesh, Kavita, Pooja, and several other men who frequented the brothel. However, speaking to The Hindu, Ms. Raut refused to comment either on the status of the case or why Mr. Pawra was let off the hook. “The investigation is still on and the case is in court. I cannot say anything. Let the law take its course,” she said.
Today, Anita derives strength from knowing that her story will inspire others to fight to free themselves . “All those who were wrong know they are wrong. They will suffer one day when the truth comes out,” she says.