We first saw Hajma when we were investigating a brothel in Sangli,  Maharashtra. She looked barely 16-17 years old, and was forced into prostitution.   We presented the evidence to the Additional Superintendent of Police, ASP,  she directed us to an officer from the anti human trafficking unit. After sharing information with him, we were assured that the raid would be planned for the next morning. 

14th December 2021,  we proceeded to the police station to discuss the raid. We were informed by a police staff that the Superintendent of Police had called a meeting and most of the police force was part of the meeting.  It would go on till 6 pm that evening.  We tried calling and messaging the ASP to remind her about Hajma’s rescue, but she did not respond to our message.

Later that evening, hoping the meeting was over, we went to the Superintendent of Police’s office to request him to provide another officer for the raid. He was still at the meeting. At 6:30 pm we finally got to meet a member of the AHTU. Once again we were asked to come to the office the next day.

15 December, we went to the AHTU office the next morning.   We met the Assistant Police Inspector, API, who informed us that she did not have enough staff for the raid.  We were asked to come back after lunch.  We asked her to assign any police officer to help us for the raid. She tried calling one member from her team but he did not answer her call.  Around 12 pm, our team who was surveilling the brothel called to say that there was a lot of movement at the brothel. Within a few minutes , the entire brothel was shut. Hajma vanished so did the brothel keeper, and the customers… 

We met the API after lunch. She told us her staff is busy with other matters and no one would be available today for the raid.  This time we could clearly see that the API had no interest in conducting the raid and someone from her office had tipped the brothel of the impending raid, hence it was shut tight. 

16th December 2021, our team surveying the brothel in Sangli informed us that the brothel was still shut tight and there was no sign of Hajma.   We had no other option but to wait for the brothel to re-open and for Hajma to make a reappearance at the brothel.

7th January 2022,  as soon as our team told us that Hajma had reappeared in a brothel in Sangli, we went to meet the Superintendent of Police in Sangli and provided him with all the evidence we had collected about Hajma. His response, they did not handle  Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, PITA, cases and did not have an AHTU cell. He then directed us to another police station.  We met the inspector at that station. He told us that they did not have a panch (third party) witness and if we could get a panch witness, they could go ahead with the raid.  We called our contact in Sangli and arranged for a panch witness. The inspector then went for lunch saying they would conduct the raid after lunch. As soon as he left, we got a call from our team saying that the brothel we were surveilling started shutting down. 

It was a déjà vu moment for us.

Once again someone in the police station had tipped off the brothel about the raid. This time we escalated the matter with the Superintendent of Police, Inspector General of Kolhapur range, Inspector General of AHTU and the Taskforce of Maharashtra governmenent.

The breakthrough we were waiting for

Throughout January,  we kept surveilling the red light area in Sangli searching for suspected minor Hajma. On  27th January, there was a convergence meeting held in Sangli. In attendance were the police, NGOs,  government shelter homes and a few other civic agencies. Our advocate who was present and representing us shared that we did not get any support from the police to conduct raids, in spite of providing the police with evidence of children and minors being forced into prostitution. Other NGOs present at the meeting shared that Freedom Firm was the only NGO rescuing children, minors and forced majors in Sangli district. The Assistant Police Inspector, API,  that we had met earlier told us that the next time we have information about any children or minor girls, we should meet her outside the office premises and she would act on it.

3rd February,   as soon as we had information that Hajma was present at a brothel in Sangli, we called the API. She agreed to meet us outside the office. She knew that she had to be careful because of the earlier two tip off messages/calls to the brothel from someone in her department.  After getting permission from the Superintendent of Police to go ahead with the raid, she started to get her team for the raid. 

Raid in Sangli red light area

At 6:54 pm, the brothel was raided. The brothel had three rooms. Two young girls were sitting on a bench and next to them sat the brothel keeper. One of the rooms was locked from the inside. The police knocked on the door. After a full minute, the door was opened by Hajma. The police first asked the victims where they were from.  They each said they were from West Bengal but could not provide any address. The police then questioned the brothel keeper about the victims.  The brothel keeper, who was 26 years old,  got someone to bring the victims documents. The documents (Aadhar cards and birth certificates) all stated that the three victims were majors (21, 23 and 26 years.)  The police said they couldn’t  take the girls out of the brothel since they were majors. We reminded the police that the raid was conducted under the ITPA, Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, so all  procedures (under ITPA when a brothel is raided by an officer, he is bound by law to rescue all victims irrespective of their age and produce them before the court or Child Welfare Committee if the victim was a child or minor).  The API spoke to one of her seniors after which she started collecting evidence from the brothel. 

She’s young and don’t let her certificates tell you otherwise!

At 11 pm the victims, the accused, and our team proceeded to the police station.  Initially the police refused to book the accused since she was a woman and wanted to know why she was arrested after sunset.  Our advocate and a member of the AHTU spoke to the police who finally  booked the accused and kept her in  a cell at the police station. The three victims were  sent for a covid test and a medical check up. 

4th February at 2 am we received a copy of the First Information Report. 

Early that morning , the victims were sent to a temporary shelter home. We hope the Child Welfare Committee will transfer them to a shelter home in Pune where they will be counseled as well as provided with life skill and vocational training.