The Pune Police has decided to put a stop to the forced sex trade involving minors and prostitution through massage parlours. Outlining the police’s stance, Commissioner of Police (CP) K Venkatesham on Monday tweeted, “Committed to control illegal activities creating public nuisance like prostitution in the form of massage parlours, matka, illegal liquor dens, drug peddlers, hawking on footpaths, etc.”
The police chief’s tweet follows a crackdown on pubs and hotels in different parts of the city for playing loud music, selling liquor illegally and partying after the specified time limit. Police teams raided establishments in Baner, Kalyani Nagar, Mundhwa and Hadapsar, and plan to raid more such hotels and pubs, said sources.
In a series of measures starting in January, the social security cell of the Pune City Police also busted prostitution rackets and rescued women, including several minors, from several hotels and spas. The racketeers have been booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956.
Activists said many establishments, under the guise of massage parlours, indulge in illegal acts. Women who get into the business are threatened with dire consequences if they want to get out of it, they added. The police’s action in Budhwar Peth, a red-light area, has drawn flak from NGOs such as Saheli Sangh and Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal, who alleged that police were bent on snatching the livelihoods of commercial sex workers.
The activists have also accused the police of humiliating customers by holding them captive, photographing them and making videos of them that go viral online. The volunteers recently released a fact-finding report highlighting how the police action has affected the economic conditions of the workers.
The volunteers also spoke against a police claim that the raids were conducted to rescue minors and “Bangladeshi” sex workers. “Most women rescued and sent to shelters were adult Indian women,” they said. The police said they would continue their action to rescue women, especially minors, who are being forced into prostitution. “Minors are being brought from different parts of the state and forced into prostitution. This is nothing but kidnapping and rape. We will slap kidnap and rape cases against the racketeers. Our action will continue against people who are forcing minors into prostitution,” said Venkatesham.
The CP’s tweet further stated: “Together we can make a difference… Whatsapp 8975283100… Names will not be disclosed.”
Human rights lawyer Asim Sarode slammed the Pune Police’s “action” of rescuing minors and public humiliation of customers. “I think it is all a farce. For rescuing minors, the police are taking help of some organisations whose actions themselves are objectionable. Besides, in the name of rescuing minors, no proper verification is carried to find out whether they are minors or adults,” Sarode said.
On the police “humiliating” customers, Sarode said, “The Supreme Court has laid down the law regarding Right to Privacy… The police have no right to humiliate customers as they did in the past. How can they act against consenting adult partners?”
When asked about the allegations made by the NGO, Venkatesham said, “I don’t want to hear what they are saying, but we will put our best efforts to rescue minors and catch wrongdoers.”
Praising the ongoing police action, activist Maruti Bhapkar said Pune police should act tough not only against racketeers but also youngsters who are torching vehicles, openly using swords and choppers and indulging in goondaism. “The action of rescuing minors from brothels is first such serious one initiated by any police commissioner of Pune,” said Bhapkar.