Kathmandu, September 17
Nepal often gets to hear heart-rending news about Nepali girls and women being sold in India for sex trade. Apparently, the opposite is also true. Lately, Indian girls are also being trafficked to Nepal to engage them in commercial sex.
This came to light after five Indian women, who were trafficked to Nepal, were rescued from Gaushala area in Kathmandu by Maiti Nepal with the support of police yesterday. This is the first time Indian girls who were trafficked to Nepal were rescued, according to Maiti Nepal, an NGO that helps victims of sex trafficking.
The number of girls rescued yesterday is just the tip of the iceberg, according to 25-year-old Puja (name changed) from Motihari, Bihar, who was tricked into sex trade in Gaushala area three years ago.
“There are hundreds of other girls like me in this area,” said Puja, a mother of a two-year-old son, who was trafficked to Kathmandu by her brother-in-law after her husband “suffered from mental illness”.
Girls like Puja who have been rescued could not clearly say how much they were sold for. But they suspect the presence of a racket in the area that forces vulnerable girls trafficked from India into sex trade.
Take Rashmila Das (name changed), for instance, who has been working as a commercial sex worker in Gaushala for the last three years.
She was 17 when her boyfriend, Raju Singh, from her hometown at Bardawana, Kolkata, brought her to Kathmandu on the pretext of getting married in Pashupatinath temple, which is located a few hundred metres from Gaushala. They stayed in a budget hotel in Gaushala for five days. “On the fifth day, he handed me Rs 600 and left the room, promising he’d be back by the evening,” said Rashmila. But he didn’t.
“For the next one week, I visited Pashupati temple every morning and stayed there till late at night hoping he’d come back,” said Rashmila Das, who ate once a day due to shortage of money. But he never returned. She ultimately landed on the streets of Gaushala where she befriended a woman whom she refers to as ‘Thakurani’. Thakurani, a cigarette and paan vendor, gave her shelter and initially took good care of her. “But she made me work as a commercial sex worker,” Rashmila said.
Rashmila could not clearly say whether her boyfriend had sold her to Thakurani. But she suspects a nexus between her so-called boyfriend and Thakurani, as she was abandoned in an area where sex trade was rife and Thakurani immediately became friendly with her after she was left on the streets. Officials of Maiti Nepal suspect that Thakurani is one of the key persons who runs the prostitution racket in Gaushala.
“Sex trade is not a black and white affair in Nepal because prostitution is banned in the country. There are no organised places such as brothels where commercial sex workers are housed. Everything happens in informal settings like hotels located on Tilganga-Gaushala stretch,” said Uma Tamang, legal officer at Maiti Nepal.
Hotels in this section are filled with commercial sex workers, whose number has gone up in the last one year, according to Shekhar Rai, chairman of Gaushala Entrepreneurs’ Association, who filed a police complaint against people engaged in the illegal activity.
Here, girls who engage in flesh trade have to pay Rs 200 per visit to hoteliers. Their main clients are Nepalis who have returned from foreign employment destinations. The girls get to pocket Rs 300 to Rs 400 from each client and they serve five to seven men a day, said the rescued girls. It is not known how the income is divided between commercial sex workers and pimps like Thakurani.
“We hadn’t heard of Indian women being trafficked to Nepal. The case shows that Nepal is becoming a sex trafficking hub,” said Maiti Nepal Chairman Bishwo Khadka. He added, “The Indian girls who have been rescued will be sent home after holding talks with Indian authorities.”
A version of this article appears in print on September 18, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.