Bhubaneswar, Nov. 7: For Nilima (name changed), a high-school dropout from Nayagarh, life was not easy after death of her father. With a mother and two younger brothers to look after, she came to Bhubaneswar looking for a job.
She got a job at a beauty parlour on Cuttack Road for a monthly remuneration of Rs 3,000. But it did not take long for the parlour owner to lure her into flesh trade with the offer of more money.
Nilima's case is typical of young girls from poor families who get trapped into sex rackets flourishing in Bhubaneswar, which has witnessed rapid urbanisation over the past five years.
The unearthing of a fresh sex racket in Chandrasek-harpur last Saturdayshows how flesh trade continues to thrive in the city. While most of these rackets operate under the cover of parlours and massage centres, some are now operating out of residential areas to avoid suspicion.
After a series of raids on beauty parlours, the pimps have now switched over to residential buildings. In most cases, they target houses where the owners do not stay.
'The pimps contact customers over the phone. The customers often arrive for the rendezvous claiming to be relatives of the girls or the pimp,' said a senior police official.
While a number of rackets had been busted in beauty parlours along Cuttack Road, several such rackets have also been unearthed in residential areas. Though officials said that there were around 170 beauty parlours in the city including 85 in Laxmisagar and Badagada police station areas, their actual number would be more than 500.
Local residents blamed the situation on the unregulated building activities across Bhubaneswar and its outskirts. 'Buildings and apartments are mushrooming on city outskirts with hardly any occupants. These vacant houses are often used by criminal elements for illegal activities,' said Satyabrata Sahu, a resident of Sundarpada.
'In order to avoid suspicion, the pimps are now targeting residential areas. They take houses on rent where customers are entertained,' said a police official. Students and occasional visitors to the city form the bulk of their customers.
The police said most of the girls involved in sex trade come fromPuri, Jagatsinghpur and Nayagarh. But many also come from the neighbouring states,especially Bengal. 'The middlemen generally demand between Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,000 for girls from Odisha, but the demand is double in the case of girls from other states,' said a police official.
'The girls are sent to a short-stay home after a racket is busted. However, no sooner than they return from these homes, they resume theirold business. We have come across cases where the pimps brought them back from the short-stay homes claiming to be their legal guardian,' said a police official.
Sociologist Lokapriya Kanungo said one of the key factors behind the rise in sex trade is poverty.
'Families send girls to cities such as Bhubaneswar to earn money and when they do not get any job,they indulge in such activities. The added attraction is the quick buck they make in this trade. Many students belonging to poor families come to cities to study and when they find a way out to sustain themselves, they get into prostitution,' said Kanungo.
Police commissioner R.P. Sharma said the police had been conducting frequent raids on beauty parlours. 'On specific information, we also raid residential areas,' said Sharma.