A cable (216420: unclassified) sent on July 14, 2009, from the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai observed that many cultural groups that regularly visited the U.S. from Mumbai, were involved in “potentially criminal activities in the United States including human trafficking.” Some women ‘performers' in the cultural groups complained of harassment and exploitation.

Based on a careful study, the cable characterised fraudulent ‘cultural groups' as follows: they usually have 10 to 30 members, about five musicians, two or three singers, and many dancers; many have frequently travelled to many countries and perform a mix of Bollywood and Gujarati styles of dances. “Applicants generally have no formal training or are self-taught.” Neither can they convincingly answer questions regarding their itineraries or their performances.

The cable said that in January 2009, four members of a ‘cultural group' were arrested in the U.S. on four counts of human trafficking. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported that some members of the group were forced to work 14-hour days at a bar. “Women were held against their will and their passports, money, and airline tickets were kept by some of the men.”

In another instance, two women approached the Consulate to complain that “they were forced into prostitution instead of performing cultural events.”

An investigation revealed that “although they may not have been forced into prostitution, they were not paid for services including dancing.” In another case, one of the woman performers gave a statement detailing “how the girls were forced into prostitution.”

The cable noted that though most women members of cultural groups were willing to provide information on illegal activities involving the groups that occur in the U.S., hardly anyone was willing to implicate themselves.

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)