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Foreigners lost in sex maze

Human TraffickingPublished in The Deccan Herald by Vishnu Sukumaran

Police claim prostitution rackets prevail also because there are orders for local cops not to carry out raids under the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act without enough evidence and permission from seniors.

The murders of two women from Uzbekistan have revealed one of the open secrets of the capital – hundreds of foreigners are trapped in flesh trade here. Those who try to cheat their Indian handlers are often thrashed and confined. And sometimes killed, like Shakhnoza Shukurova and Atazhanova Kupalbayevna.

Both the women were kidnapped and killed by their Delhi-based pimp Gagandeep Singh. The investigation so far has revealed that they were victims of human trafficking who did odd jobs during the day and helped earn lakhs a month for their pimps through prostitution.

According to police, prostitution rackets prevail in the capital also because there are orders for local police not to carry out raids under the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act without enough evidence and permission from senior officers. The orders were issued by senior officers at Delhi Police headquarters after regular complaints of corruption and harassment of sex workers by policemen.

“The order has come to the aid of pimps. Nowadays, no raid is conducted until we are approached by NGOs or other state police requesting rescue operations,” says a police officer.

The figures with Delhi Police show that 24 people were arrested under the Act in 2010, and the number went up to 30 in 2011. Since then, the numbers have been declining and only one pimp was arrested in 2014. The number of FIRs registered under the act has also fallen. While 28 cases were registered in 2010, only three have been registered in 2015 so far.

“Prostitution involving foreign women is not only rampant in Delhi, but seems to be flourishing with the support of authorities. While many are willing sex workers, there are also those who have been tricked into the trade. A coordinated effort by law enforcement agencies and immigration authorities is needed to crack down on the gangs,” says Delhi Commission for Women chairperson Swati Maliwal. She recently visited Delhi’s largest red-light area GB Road with the United States ambassador Richard Verma and US Permanent Representative to United Nations Samantha Power.

Police and NGOs suggest that Uzbekistan has turned out to be one of the preferred countries for these gangs. It is also alleged that women from the country are managed by women of Uzbek origin settled in India for many years.

“Women who would otherwise have sought other types of employment are turning to sex work in order to support themselves and their families,” says Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central) Parmaditya. It is estimated that the gangs lure 50-60 women to the capital every month with promise of employment and then push them into prostitution.
Most of them carry valid tourist visas. Some are brought here through Nepal, Sri Lanka and Dubai. Once in Delhi, they are kept in groups at Saket, Lajpat Nagar, Mahipalpur and Paharganj.

“The gangs arrange day jobs as a cover for the women. They work as models, dancers and waitresses, but the money is nothing compared to what they earn from prostitution,” says Ravindra Yadav, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime).

While on an average, the charges for short-time services are Rs 8,000-Rs 10,000, it goes up to Rs 25,000-Rs 30,000 if the women are engaged for the entire night. The prices can be Rs 1 lakh if a client wishes to avail special services, including belly dancing, weekend parties, or to have the women accompany them to a destination of their choice. The money, however, is paid to the pimp. The women only get paid a portion of the amount. “At times, they are made to attend 10 guests in a night. But the money never goes to them,” Singh adds.

Some prostitutes offer riskier sex acts that clients will pay more for, such as unprotected sex – which carries a premium price, but may also lead to HIV infection.

After some months with a pimp, some women even go independent using social networking websites and advertisement in newspapers. “The pimps then seek revenge and inform local police. The women are physically and mentally tortured,” Singh says.

With their passports and money in the pimp’s control, the women often return to the gangs. Most of them choose against informing police or the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO).

While foreigners have long been involved in sex trade in Delhi, a recent investigation by the south-east district police has exposed how dirty it can get. The probe into the missing complaint of Uzbek woman Shakhnoza in September has helped blow the lid off the actual reach of these gangs.

Sordid tale
It was revealed that Shakhnoza was murdered by her pimp Gagandeep and another Uzbek woman named Atazhanova in September. However, Atazhanova also went missing thereafter and her body was found in Uttar Pradesh’s Hapur district.
Atazhanova’s murder came to light when Gagandeep admitted that he had killed her as she was the only witness to Shakhnoza’s murder.

Police hope to unearth many international gangs with the phone numbers found in the call data records of the women and their colleagues, including Gagandeep. A team has been formed to scan phonebooks and obtain call detail records of everyone involved in the case in any manner.

Police have also interrogated Gagandeep’s wife for leads. Gagandeep has confessed that Atazhanova was a friend of his wife, Masha, who is also of Uzbek origin. Gagandeep told police that his wife was blackmailing some of the women. In a letter, Atazhanova had written that Masha had brought her to India. She came from Tashkent to Almaty, then to Istanbul, and from Istanbul to Kathmandu. Atazhanova had drafted and addressed the letter to the Uzbekistan embassy in India, but did not deliver it.

Apart from Uzbekistan, the other preferred countries include Greece, Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan.

Whether the women get into sex trade willingly or are being forced, they have been provided immunity by the Union Home Ministry. An order says foreign prostitutes caught in raids must not be prosecuted, but repatriated to their countries unless there is concrete proof that she is a trafficker.

A Delhi Police order says only ACPs or the SHO will investigate such cases. Reports have to be sent to the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime) every month and shared with the Delhi government twice a month.

Although there is no official estimate, police say there must be around 2,000 women from these countries working in the capital. Currently, foreign nationals apprehended on charges of human trafficking are treated in line with the SAARC convention.

“Foreign nationals come here on tourist visas as part of dancing troupes and get into flesh trade. Most of them are international rackets,” says Rishi Kant from NGO Shakti Vahini. He feels it is important that instead of targeting just the victims, the actual traffickers are arrested.

“Traffickers are no longer gutkha-chewing, uneducated men and women. They carry mobile phones, speak English and can be respected members of society,” Kant adds. The probe in such cases has revealed evidence that traffickers are increasingly using technology to coordinate, swap and share information, move money, and yet remain anonymous.

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