BENGALURU: Twenty-six-year-old Shivani (name changed) had been working as a domestic help, for little over a year, in Vasanth Nagar. She was paid erratically but she stayed on, dependent on her employer for food and stay until she realized that she may be sold to a dance bar on Brigade Road.
She made her lucky escape by running away, but an activist who has been fighting for the rights of domestic workers for over three decades says that girls usually end up ‘sold’. Geetha Menon, who runs an organisation called Stree Jagruti Samiti, says that cases like Shivani’s are on the rise in the city over the last four years.
“There is demand and supply of it in Bengaluru. People earn well here and have money to spend. Also, these places are not raided here as often, like they are in Mumbai and Delhi.” she says. This May, Mumbai’s Home Minister Ram Shinde announced that the government would take action against police officers — from inspectors to DCPs — in whose areas dance bars were found operating; within hours four bars were raided. “Enforcement of rules is lax here too”.
Senior police officials say that not even one dance bar was raided in Bengaluru this year, and City Crime Record Bureau says that they do not maintain a record on human trafficking.
Officials say that these operate as ‘ladies bar’, where women are employed to serve drinks, which is legal. Checks and raids are done only when a person registers a complaint against a bar, for example for playing loud music or causing a ruckus. If they do conduct a raid and rescue women, officials say that the dancers often lie about why they are there; activists agree.
Unemployed poor easy prey
Women like Shivani, who come to the city desperate for a job, are easy prey. A native of Assam, Shivani got a job immediately with Diya (name changed), who ran a paying-guest accommodation. She was not allowed a day off, even when she lost her mother to illness last July. Last October, Shivani needed money to help her ailing brother and sought help from Diya.
Shivani recounts, “a Few days later, in October, Diya took me to a dance bar and asked me to sign an agreement. I didn’t want to, but we were surrounded by unfriendly men in suits and Diya was insistent. They even took my picture and there was little I could do to stop them”.
Geetha says that she too has heard of this ‘agreement’ women are made to sign at dance bars, but has never managed to get a copy to read. A person who has frequented dance bars and has interacted a few of the owners says, “One of the clauses is that they cannot join another dance bar for a better offer. They are also not allowed to get friendly with the customers, unless the customers spends a little extra”.
Shivani was told to look around her new workplace and all she saw were young girls dancing in sparkly clothes. It was only 6 pm. She overheard the conversation Diya was having with one of
“He said that I could join work next month but that I cannot wear simple clothes, like the one I was wearing then. He promised Diya an advance of Rs 65,000.” Shivani says that she planned her escape then.
Lack of data makes rescues difficult
Geetha says that there is no official data on trafficking for dance bars, but a police officer she worked with quoted a figure once. “He said that there are over 150 Assamese women working in these bars in the city,” she says.
Most of the women are migrants who are promised jobs by ‘agents’, who then supply bar owners with these girls. Geeta and her team are working to track the trafficking route and, for now, has concluded that the hub is New Delhi.
Once the women reach the city and are employed at the bars, money is a strong incentive to stay on. Shivani was told that the tips collected at the bar will be distributed equally among the girls. If they choose to go “overnight” with the customers, then that remains with the girl and does not have to be shared with anyone else. This ‘extra’ they could earn draws women to the sex trade.
Girls do not earn a fixed income but can take home anything from `10,000 upwards. In Shivani’s case, Diya was to get a monthly stipend.
When trafficked women are rescued, they do not tell the truth, says joint commissioner of police Sri N Satheesh Kumar. Even activists agree with him. A year ago, a residence in HAL was raided and eight girls in their 20s were rescued. They said that they were from Ludhiana and in the city for a dance cultural exchange programme. “We later found out they were bar dancers,” says Geeta.
What does the law say?
Human trafficking is prohibited under the Constitution of India under Article 23 (1) The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA) is the premier legislation for prevention of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. The Act intends to combat trafficking and sexual exploitation for commercial purposes.
Govt plans stronger legislation
The central government is set to introduce a law to guard against human trafficking by proposing a 10-year punishment for those engaging in “aggravated forms of trafficking”. Repeat offenders are entitled to life imprisonment. The bill proposes the establishment of a national anti-trafficking bureau which shall monitor and tackle human trafficking.