“I have been working to rescue and prevent trafficking of women since many years, but my most vivid memory is of a raid on a shopping complex at GB Road near New Delhi Station in 2007 when I was SP, Women’s Protection Cell, CID, of then undivided Andhra Pradesh,” recalls Telangana IPS officer Mahesh Muralidhar Bhagwat, who has been chosen for the 2017 Trafficking in Person Report Hero Award by the US State Department.
The Trafficking in Person Report Hero Awards are given out to NGO workers, lawmakers, police officers or ordinary citizens committed to fighting human trafficking.
Recalling the Delhi raid, Bhagwat said, “We had received information about the presence of Telugu girls who were trafficked into prostitution in that building. There were shops on the ground floor, but on the first floor and above, we found small cabins with a trafficked girl in each, where customers were sent by the trafficker and the pimp. The girls were living in the most horrible conditions I had ever seen. They were slaves, imprisoned in those cabins. It was such a relief when we rescued the 7-8 girls and united them with their families.”
A 1995-batch officer, Bhagwat is currently posted as Police Commissioner of Rachakonda — he is the first comissioner of the commissionerate that was set up last June. Before joining IPS, he studied civil engineering and also completed his LLB.
“We rescued Telugu girls in dozens during raids across the country. They were forced into the sex trade by traffickers who told their parents that the girls would be offered good jobs in cities like Delhi or Mumbai,” Bhagwat said. “In the first case I handled, I was shocked to know that school buses were used to take trafficked girls to hotels on the outskirts of Hyderabad,” he added.
The citation of the award Bhagwat received says he demonstrated remarkable commitment to the fight against human trafficking for the past 13 years. “He has participated in anti-trafficking operations that have removed hundreds of victims from situation of trafficking and, with the help of other government departmens and civil society organizations, has ensured their placement in support programs. He has pioneered the use of legal provisions to close sites where human trafficking is known to occur. Under his command, Rachakonda police closed 25 brothels, five hotels and 20 residential apartments in less than a year, and participated in crackdown on labour trafficking which led to removal of more than 350 children from forced work in brick kilns,” it adds.
Prior to this award, Bhagwat has received several honours, including the President Police Medals for Gallantry, the President Police Medal for Meritorious Service; the Community Policing award and Homeland Security Special Honour in 2004 from International Association of Chiefs of Police, among others. In 2010, DIG S Umapathi, had received the Trafficiking in Person Report Hero award for conducting several operations to rescue trafficked women.