By Swapnaneel Bhattacharjee
April 21, 2017: Even as the government has taken various initiatives to prevent trafficking of women in the country, the existence of an organised red-light area in the heart of Silchar town, the headquarters of Cachar district, explicitly reveals how prostitution over the years has become a booming business here. This not only exposes the lack of a plan in properly weeding out the “unwanted pests” of the society, but also derides the district administration which has ostensibly been in oblivion on the forever-clamant issue till date.
Expressing disgust as well as surprise, different organisations have strongly demanded eviction of the Silchar brothel, which allegedly has been the epicentre of trafficking, especially of minor girls.
Located at Radhamadhab Road, Panpatty, the brothel is a stone’s throw away from Sadar police station and yet the business continues without any hurdles.
According to data obtained by our reporter in this connection, a meeting was held on April 29, 1963 on the issue of prostitution practice in Silchar brothel following which Mohitosh Purkayastha, who was the chairman of Silchar Municipal Board at that time, had issued a notice as per which prostitution centre, in any area under the municipal authority, was to be prohibited. The notice was issued as per section 256(1) of Assam Municipal Act, 1956. However, even after 54 years, the Silchar brothel is still thriving as ever.
Poulami Duttaroy, an anti-trafficking activist and former project-director of Barak Valley Welfare Society said a team of UNICEF officials accompanied by members of three organisations including Barak Valley Welfare Society, Nivedita Nari Sangstha and Deshabandhu Club, on January 11, 2015 had visited the Silchar brothel to inspect whether children living inside the red-light area were prone to diseases considering the unhygienic atmosphere inside the brothel premises. The state president of National Commission for Women (NCW) Rumli Gogoi was also present during the inspection.
After the inspection, reports were sent to different officials of the district administration including the then Cachar deputy commissioner, Cachar superintendent of police, officer in-charge of Sadar police station, chairperson of Silchar Municipal Board (SMB) and few others. It was stated in the reports that prostitution was illegal in commercial places and as such the brothel should not be in the heart of the town. It was also mentioned that a notice was issued in 1963 for eviction of the brothel, but the process halted for unknown reasons.
“It is a shocking fact that despite the order of the municipal board the brothel is running without any restriction. Even though many organisations brought the issue to the attention of the district administration on multiple occasions, nothing proved fruitful till date. As a result, the town has turned into an epicentre of trafficking. Minor girls are brought from different states and are sold here in exchange of huge amounts of money,” she added.
Anita Das Choudhury, member of an NGO – “Sahaay”, said the brothel is defiling the atmosphere of Silchar and evicting it would be a remarkable step.
Hasina Kharbhih, a senior member of Impulse, a Shillong-based NGO, which works against human trafficking, said according to Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA), 1956, a prostitution centre cannot exist in a public place, but Silchar is an exception. Hasina was present with police during one of the raids at the Silchar brothel in 2016.
Expressing her surprise over the quietude of the citizens of Silchar, she said local people have never raised their voice over the matter due to which the brothel has not been evicted till date. She opined that teenage girls always remain in high demand in flesh trade, and as such fresh girls are brought from different states and sold in the brothel on a frequent basis. Selling their body is the sole source of income for sex workers of the brothel, and thus they have to given an alternate source of income before the plan of eviction is implemented.
Speaking to TNT, Agnes Kharshiing, president of Civil Society Women Organisation (CSWO) took a dig at Cachar police authority saying that she never ever received co-operation from police here whenever she visited Silchar for rescue operations at the brothel. She alleged that certain number of police officials of Silchar is having a nexus with pimps who run the brothel. The Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) of the district, too, does not work properly. In bulk of the rescue operation cases, the pimps of the brothel receive information of raids from earlier.
She said girls are mostly trafficked from Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Nepal and several other places and are sold at high rates in the brothel.
Terming the matter “extremely sensitive”, Cachar deputy commissioner S. Viswanathan said he would discuss it with the police authority about the issue.
Ramandeep Kaur, additional superintendent of police and the head of AHTU, however, repudiated the allegation of inefficiency against the AHTU and said the unit is very much active in the district, but also assured that she would personally investigate to check if there are any loopholes in the work-method of the unit. She opined that Silchar is used as a “transit route” in case of trafficking of girls. She further said girls are trafficked from various rural locations too.
From various sources, TNT obtained the information that the sex workers of the brothel are run by agents and are maintained by elderly women (locally called mashi). There are around 1000-1200 sex workers in the brothel which is mainly visited by college students, rickshaw pullers and businessmen. Girls are sold at a price of Rs. 1-3 lakh (each), however rates can be higher in case of minors.
It may be mentioned that the state government, in 2012, had planned to evict the brothel after which the sex workers were about to be rehabilitated. Harendra Kumar Dev Mahanta, who was the deputy commissioner of Cachar at that time, had assured that the government directed the social welfare department to conduct a survey at the brothel regarding the rehabilitation that was supposed to be done. However, the decision has not been implemented till date.
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