On Independence Day last year, the Social Service Branch (SSB) of the Mumbai crime branch rescued 36 women from the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi.
These women, all aged between 22 and 27 years, were former bar dancers in Mumbai, and were being taken to Dubai
from where they would be transported to different Gulf countries and then forced to work as sex workers for the next three months.
The tip-off to the police came from another former bar dancer, who had been a victim of a similar racket. She was allegedly taken on an Arabian junket as part of a 'cultural troupe' and then kept in confinement before she was forced to entertain "wealthy customers".
The operation revealed a flourishing international flesh trade racket originating from Mumbai following the closure of dance bars. Trade insiders said the racket was spread across the continent - from Gulf countries, to Singapore and Bangkok.
"Many of the women I worked with struggled to survive after dance bars were banned. They left to perform in bars in Dubai, Muscat and Bahrain and even in Singapore, but ended up working as prostitutes there," said Munmun, who earlier worked in a Borivli (East) bar.
Pravin Agarwal, vice-president of Fight For Rights of Bar Owners Association (FFRBOA), said the ban had resulted in exploitation of bar dancers. "It is a misconception that the dancers were engaged in flesh trade. In fact, shutting the bars forced them into such activities," he said.
Agarwal said since bar dancers had to find another source of income as most of their families were dependent on them.
"Many waited till 2006 [a year after the ban] with the hope that the high court would overrule it. They spent all their savings and had to sell their houses, or discontinue the study of their children and other drastic measures to survive," he said.
While many went to Dubai "where they were tormented for years", those who stayed back went to work in 'silent bars'.
"The silent bars were nothing but sleazy joints. Those flourished under the nose of the same police that kept a hawk eye on orchestra bars," Agarwal said adding, that over 400 silent bars had flourished in the city in the past eight years.
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