Bangladeshis and Indians were shocked when they saw the video. Widely circulated on the messaging app WhatsApp, the almost four-minute video showed a woman being gang raped and tortured.
Was the woman Bangladeshi or Indian? The horrific video indicated both possibilities. Worried that the survivor was one of their own, social media users from both countries urged their law enforcement agencies to investigate.
And now, a probe into the attack, which showed at least four men and one woman attacking the survivor, has shed light on what authorities in both countries say is a transnational human trafficking operation, with a TikTok star as an alleged key accomplice.
The 22-year-old rape survivor was a trafficking victim from Bangladesh, said Indian police, who traced her 400 kilometres from the location of the attack, which authorities believe took place around May 18.
Sharanappa SD, a deputy police commissioner in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru, told VICE World News one of the suspects was a TikTok star from Bangladesh named Ridoy Babo.
In a dramatic operation on May 27 in the city, Indian police arrested Babo, shooting him in the leg as he tried to escape. Five others were also arrested, in relation to the attack.
A further probe by Indian and Bangladeshi authorities has revealed a much more expansive and elaborate scheme, involving dozens of human traffickers and hundreds of victims from Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s elite security force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), said Babo not only raped and trafficked the woman in the viral video, but also used his social media clout to lure 50 other women into a cross-border human trafficking ring between Bangladesh and India.
This week, the RAB arrested four people whom they believed to be the ringleaders of a Bangladeshi gang that trafficked 500 women between the two South Asian nations over the the last five years, the Daily Star reported.
In a press conference on Monday, Bangladeshi security forces claimed that Babo, the TikToker, was a key player in this transnational trafficking ring.
VICE World News is unable to reach Babo.
Investigators said Babo and his accomplices trafficked undocumented women from Bangladesh to India. The traffickers targeted women facing financial instability or those who were cut off from their families, the police said.
Traffickers used TikTok and a Facebook group to find women in Bangladesh. They were lured to India under the false premise of either shooting videos or finding employment. Police officials said Ridoy had more than 71,000 followers, and had even hosted a pool party for almost 800 TikTok users last year.
TikTok and Facebook didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The RAB said that Babo was given commissions for every woman he helped traffic to India. The women were first transported to border districts of Bangladesh, kept in safe houses, and then taken to India through unfenced borders, according to the RAB.
Anti-trafficking activists have identified Bengaluru, the Indian city where police said the gang rape happened, as a human trafficking hub. Last year, police found that traffickers brought women and children, mainly from Bangladesh, and forced them into sex work, pornography or bonded labour.