New Delhi, June 10 (Reuters): Priya was just 12 when she was drugged by an aunt and dumped at a brothel here.
“I thought it was a cinema hall but then I realised they wanted me to do bad things,” said the young Nepali woman, now 21, who was brought from her poverty-stricken village with the promise of a job as maid.
Priya spent the next three years in the red-light district, where she says she was forced to have sex with “all kinds of men from 13-year-olds to old men with no teeth”.
“They threatened me, saying they’d let me go if I worked for three years and earned Rs 50,000 for them,” Priya said. “Otherwise, they said they’d send me to a brothel in Mumbai where I’d be locked in a room until I was old.”
Today, she’s one of the lucky few to be rescued from sexual slavery — in fact, she now works with police, saving other women from brothels. But thousands of Nepali girls are trafficked across the 1,580-km India-Nepal border and sold to brothels.
Social workers say the number of girls being trafficked from Nepal has increased in recent years because of AIDS.
“There’s a myth that having sex with a virgin can cure you of Aids,” said Roma Debabrata, president of Stop, a group that rescues girls from brothels.
She said some men with Aids fork out up to Rs 1,00,000 — almost an entire year’s starting salary for an executive — for a virgin. There are about 2,00,000 to 3,75,000 Nepali women in Indian brothels, according to a report that Prayas, a non-government organisation, helped compile.
About 30 to 40 per cent of the total number of women in India’s red-light districts are Nepali, Ravi Nair, executive director of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, said.
Trafficking of women from Nepal’s hill communities beg- an in the 19th century, when feudal lords recruited girls from the Helambu region north of Kathmandu to work as concubines. Owning “Helambu girls” became a mark of high social status.
Today, the practice of keeping concubines has ended but the recruitment of women continues — only now they are sold to Indian brothel owners who like them because of their fair complexion.
“There are organised gangs and it’s a multi-million-rupee trade,” Nair said. “The problem is, cross-border trafficking is not given the same importance as cross-border terrorism or trafficking of drugs.”
Almost always the story is the same — poor and illiterate girls as young as nine are sold by their families or lured to India with the promise of well-paid jobs as domestic or factory workers.
Once there, activists say they are sold to middlemen for about Rs 9,500 to Rs 23,000 and then they must resign themselves to life as a prostitute or face gang rape and torture until they submit. “Their spirit gets destroyed,” Nair said.
A US-based non-government group, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, recounts the story of 13-year-old Mira from Nepal who arrived at a brothel on Mumbai’s Falkland Road, where thousands of women are displayed in zoo-like cages.
“When she refused to have sex, she was dragged into a torture chamber in a dark alley used for breaking in new girls. She was locked in a narrow, windowless room without food or water,” the report said.
After she refused to have sex for a fourth day, she was wrestled to the floor and her head smashed against concrete until she passed out. When she awoke, she was raped. “Afterwards, she complied with their demands,” the report said.
Some girls are rescued and some manage to escape but the numbers are few and far between. Many contract AIDS here and are then sent back to Nepal where they are dismissed as “India’s soiled goods”.
Faced with the prospect of social ostracism at home, one 16-year-old Nepali who Stop rescued from a Delhi brothel said she didn’t want to go home.
“She said she did not want to be rescued because she had nowhere to go,” said Debabrata.