Darjeeling, Nov. 26: Two sex workers were arrested with three clients from the New Mountview Hotel here last night.
Police believe the arrest is only the tip of an iceberg and have brought other hotels, offering cheap accommodation, under its scanner.
C. Bhutia, inspector in-charge, Darjeeling, said the two girls, Poonam Tamang, 19, from Sukhiapokhri and Sapna alias Sapun Chhetri, 30, from Rajbari in Darjeeling, have admitted to being involved in the trade for the past four years.
“When we entered room 18, Poonam was with one of her clients, Binay Tamang, 23, from Chandmari. We also picked up Rishi Thakuri, 24, and Ratan Diayali, 28, from Pokhriabong who were apparently negotiating with the other girl,” said Bhutia.
The proprietor of the hotel, Sunil Subba, 43, has also been arrested. The cell phones of the girls have been seized. Police have booked them under the immoral trafficking Act, under which they will not get bail.
K.P. Malla, a retired major and technical adviser to the District AIDS Control Centre, said they knew such a racket thrived in some of the hotels. In 1999, the centre along with a few NGOs had offered a monthly sum of Rs 1,000 to sex workers to quit the profession and take up alternative jobs.
“All the workers refused the sum saying they earned much more every month,” said Malla.
In the absence of any specified red-light zone in the town, police believe almost all of them operate as mobile sex workers, switching hotels. A part of their profits go to the hotel.
According to Bhutia, the entire operation was possibly being carried out in connivance with the hotel authorities since the name of those arrested were not found in the hotel register.
Nooren Dunne, a health worker, attributed the rise of such problems to the slump in the hill economy and lack of employment opportunities. “Unless we seriously address the issue, the situation could become volatile,” said Dunne.
“Most of the workers belong to the slums and the tea gardens. Three months ago, the Calcutta-based State AIDS Prevention and Control Society had come to identify zones vulnerable to the disease. The survey report revealed there were 150 mobile sex workers in the hills, but we believe the number could be more,” said Malla.