Five girls from West Bengal, who should have been in school at their age, were rescued on Wednesday from the clutches of an alleged trafficker in Patna where they were forced to dance at soirees and sexually exploited.
The girls are aged between 14 and 17 years.
One woman, Puja Nandi, who was allegedly instrumental in the trafficking, has been arrested.
Last week, a member of a Delhi-based NGO, Mission Mukti Foundation, received a call from one of the girls who said she was being kept confined in a house in Patna.
The call triggered a chain of events that led to the rescue of the girls on Wednesday.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights sent a letter to the senior superintendent of police, Patna, requesting an order to the anti-human trafficking unit of the Patna police to facilitate the rescue operation.
A team comprising cops in civvies, members of two NGOs (Mission Mukti and Rescue Foundation), and members of the Patna units of Child Welfare Commission (CWC) and Childline India Foundation raided a house in Patna’s Maharani Colony on Wednesday, only to find it locked.
The team started asking the residents about the people who lived in the house. One of them shared the mobile phone number of one of the residents of the house.
An activist dialled the number and a woman answered the call. The caller impersonated an event organiser in need of dancers.
The woman asked for an advance payment in the online mode. When the caller insisted on seeing the girls first, she disconnected the call.
Tracing the number to a location around 2km away, the team reached another neighbourhood.
“But there were many houses in the area. So, we took the guise of civic officials on an inspection of tenants in the neighbourhood. One of the houses had several woman’s slippers outside the main door. We barged in to find the girls inside,” said Virender Singh of Mission Mukti Foundation.
Nandi was arrested from the same house.
“Five girls have been rescued. One woman has been arrested. We are in touch with our counterparts in West Bengal,” said a senior police officer in Patna.
The girls were taken to a shelter home in Patna.
“We are coordinating with CWC members in Bengal. As soon as a social investigation report of the girls is complete, we will transfer them to CWC in Bengal,” said Sangita Kumari, chairperson of CWC, Patna.
A social investigation will include home verification of each girl and interaction between CWC members and the girls’ parents.
Four of the girls are from North 24-Parganas district — three from Madhyamgram and one from Barasat. One is from Canning in South 24-Parganas. The details on when and how they were allegedly trafficked were not immediately known, the police said.
Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are the destinations for a number of girls trafficked from West Bengal. Most of them are forced to join dance troupes.
Some of the troupes also hire minor boys, said rights activists.
A preliminary scan of Nandi’s phone suggested that the minors were forced into prostitution as well, Singh said.
Nandi has been charged with trafficking under the Indian Penal Code and also under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act, the police said.