Mumbai, July 7: A Mumbai police station’s reported attempts to stem child prostitution have boomeranged with some girls rounded up in a raid saying police gave them identity cards.
National Commission for Women chairperson Poornima Advani was in for a shock last Wednesday when its team raided a brothel at Jamu Mansion.
Anson Thomas, a children’s rights activist, had tipped off Advani about the flesh trade involving minors at Jamu Mansion.
One of the girls rounded up, however, warded off the team, saying: “You cannot touch us, we have identity cards that have been given to us by D.B. Marg police station.”
The police station, whose jurisdiction extends to the building concerned, finally spoke up last Saturday to ward off the controversy.
Rubbishing the claims, inspector Vishnu Deokar said: “Who gave you this information' We have not issued any such identity cards to the prostitutes. There has been a misunderstanding.”
The police, however, acknowledged that the “confusion” was sparked by an “internal identification scheme” that backfired.
The scheme — which has now been dropped with immediate effect — involved the brothel maintaining an “internal reference book” with the photographs, names and addresses of the 300-odd prostitutes in the five-storeyed Jamu Mansion.
Police sources said the register was being kept to help them track down new girls being introduced to the trade and catch the old ones “who routinely give false names when caught during raids”.
“How were we to know that the girls would construe this (the register) as their identity cards'” a police officer at the station asked. “We have decided to discontinue this (the register scheme) as brothel owners and the girls seem to be using it against us.”
The police said that of the 33 girls reported to be minors, the medical reports of only three had confirmed the fact.
“We are waiting for the medical reports of the others. But we will take action against the brothel keepers and charge them with abetment of rape and kidnapping,” Deokar said.
The police said the scheme was meant to check child prostitution and was in no way aimed at “legitimising” flesh trade.
Children’s rights activists and commission members, however, were not buying the police’s reasons and their attempts at damage control.
“There are thousands of minors involved in prostitution in this city. How can it go on without the connivance of the police in some way'” an activist from Childline, a non-government organisation, asked.
“Do you think the police actually want to bust this money-spinning racket'” she added. “Forget these brothels, every ladies’ bar in Mumbai will have some girls under 18,” she alleged.
Sex worker Sonal was as dismissive of the police defence. “But why should the police ask us for our photographs in the first place' I have given mine, too. If it is hafta (bribe) they want, then they get it every time they raid our quarters,” she said.