My First Brothel Raid
A couple of months ago, on a humid afternoon in Mysore, South India, I was invited on a brothel raid by local anti-sex trafficking charity, Odanadi. This is what happened.
By the time we arrived at the remote roadside Dhaba late on Monday, the police raid was already under way. Khaki-clad officers stood shouting into mobile phones and questioning the crowd of restaurant employees in the forecourt.
The place didn’t look anything like a brothel to me: no red lights and sticky boudoirs, just two nondescript restaurants sitting on either side of the highway, with the usual corrugated iron rooves and plastic furniture. These are the kind of places you stop for a lukewarm Coke on the way to Bangalore – not the kind that place you’d imagine to be the centre of an illegal sex trafficking ring.
The 12 girls, mainly from Bangaldesh and Calcutta, were filing out from the back of the restaurant, squinting in the daylight and clutching grubby shawls to their faces. Some of them were crying. Others just peered through the back window of the police Jeep, looking at us with a mixture shock and shame.
They had been living in two windowless dungeons, no bigger than toilet cubicles and kept crouching in the dark for more than 14 days, hidden behind false walls in the back of two roadside restaurants on the Bangalore to Mysore highway.
Somewhere during the mayhem of the girls leaving, we were quickly ushered through the maze of filthy bedrooms, corridors and kitchens at the back of the first restaurant. We came to a disused room with a small trapdoor set into the wall at knee-height. Outside a tangle of clothes lay amongst dirty plates, high-heeled shoes and discarded condom boxes. We had just enough time to stick our heads into the dank six by four foot hole. It stank of human bodies, piss and old food. Dark stains splashed up one wall and the odd, sad item of clothing lay on the floor. There would not have been enough room for more then one of them to lie down and sleep.
We left the first restaurant and had just enough time to run over the road to see where the other five girls were being kept, before the police noticed we were gone. Up a squalid, urine-stained staircase and along a corridor of empty, unmade bedrooms, we arrived at the last room to find a bright blue trapdoor positioned under a shelf. Inside was a dirty squat toilet in a cubicle barely big enough for two people to stand up in – and yet it had been home to five grown women for more than two weeks. It was like something out of a horror film.
Just as we ran back down the stairs, we saw a man who had been sleeping in one of the bedrooms dragged outside and thrown into a police Jeep. The owners of the restaurants were not around.
Since then we've found out that most the girls traveled to Mysore willingly, under the instructions of a pimp or "agent". They had been secretly working as prostitutes at the restaurant to earn some fast cash. One of them had been thrown out by her husband for having a miscarriage; another girl’s husband had sold her into prostitution himself. Many more of them had families to feed – families who believed them to be working as domestic servants and nannies. They had come from Bombay, Calcutta and Bangladesh with the promise of a generous monthly "salary". They saw between five and eight customers per-day who would take them out to a hotel for an hour and then bring them back. In reality the girls received no money from the restaurant owners, but were given a small budget to adorn themselves with new clothes, cheap imitation gold and brightly coloured nail polish.
As the situation stands, the five Indian girls have had counseling and are being transferred to another rehabilitation centre in Bangalore. Odanadi is still working for the release of eight Bangladeshi girls from jail, where they are currently being held by police for not having passports or the relevant immigration documents.
Click for more info on Odanadi.