Abducted, she spent more than a year as a sex slave entertaining drug addicts, paedophiles and other criminals who brutalized her childhood. She was not alone; dozens of Kashmiri minor girls like her were sold, resold in Jammu and Delhi. Haroon Mirani and Photographer Bilal Bhadur travel to a remote Doda village to hear her heartrending story.
Eleven-year-old Sania (name changed) fought repeatedly with the old man. Not a daughter fighting her father, not a niece fighting her uncle. Sania was fighting a moneyed Chauhan she had been sold to by her captors, her resistance borne more out of physical implication than moral.
The bulky moneyed Chauhan from New Delhi has an obsession for children. Sania is 11, a long long way from when she was 10 and happy. An escapee of a minor trafficking net, where dozens of Kashmiri girls like her were kidnapped, drugged, sold and re-sold to hundreds of people in Jammu, Delhi, and other places.
The spine-chilling account of Sania starts with her poverty and possibly will end with her poverty. From her innocent face, it is difficult to imagine that her simple demeanour engulfs her cruel tryst with life. She talks like a machine bereft of any emotions associated with different words. I realize later it was her raw age. The only expression she knows is to shed tears.
A fifth standard student who didn’t have money for studies, Sania was shifted to a Madrassa in Bhaderwah. She along with her two sisters, brother and parents were content with her life until it changed on March 25, 2008, when one of her own cousins Shagufta kidnapped her and then sold her in the flesh market of Delhi.
Her expressionless face conveys more than what her words describe. She had gone with her parents to finalise the engagement ceremony of her sister in Kishtwar. There she met Shagufta who saw her catch in Sania. The poor and young girl was all that fitted Shagufta’s criterion. She promised Sania good education in Jammu city and other incentives. She took Madrassa’s phone number and calls to Sania followed. Sania agreed to meet her and fixed the time and venue.
On March 24, 2008, Sania went to the house of her classmate. She spent the night there and told her about Shugufta. Next morning when she reached the bus stop, Shugufta who hails from Sangram Batta, in Kishtwar was already there along with her father and driver. Moments later Sania was in the car where she took a glass of water. Then everything went blank.
Shugufta herself is a near outcaste in her clan except for her immediate family, following her two marriages and divorces. She eloped for her both marriages, the second one with a Sikh further enraging her clan. She had an urge for quick money and had discovered the silver in prostitution. As the income increased so did her greed. Both of her husbands left her for good.
Working in world’s oldest profession under a pimp gave Shugufta inside-out view of this industry. Sharp minded, Shugufta realized the real money was with pimps, rather than with prostitutes. So she jumped the level to become a pimp herself. Then she found out that trading younger girls were a high-value low-risk market.
Armed with this managerial skill, Shugufta applied her golden rule -drug them-sell them on Sania.
Sania doesn’t know how long she was unconscious but when she woke up, she realised that she can only move her eyes. Her hands and feet were tied. Her cries were followed by hard slapping and threats of death. She was tied in this position for 15 days to break her resistance.
Back home Sania’s worried family approached the police. During the investigation, police found Shugufta’s number in Madrassa’s call records. Shugufta’s location was traced and her house at Gandhinagar in Jammu was raided. At the time of the raid, Sania was inside the house and she even saw her father along with raiding party. When she tried to alert them, a knife was placed on her throat that effectively silenced her. Praveen, an accomplice of Shugufta dodged the police and took Sania from the back door to Jammu railway station. Unable to recover Sania police arrested Shugufta and took her to Bhaderwah police station. Here Shugufta denied any knowledge of Sania and soon managed her release.
From Jammu, Sania was taken over by Ajay Sharma who took her to New Delhi. Here Sania had to endure the worst part of her life for the next six months or a year, which she doesn’t clearly remember. She was put in an accommodation which she later came to know as L-52, Lajpat Nagar. She found that she was not alone here as ten more girls from Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ludhiana were her cellmates.
“During mornings we were chained and during evenings we were released for …” says Sania as she goes blank on words. Tears swell up and her red eyes convey the rest.
The girls were turned into prostitutes.
They had to entertain customers not one or two but sometimes eight at a stretch. Previous sex scandal in Kashmir had revealed that girls had to oblige clients comprising of politicians, policemen, bureaucrats and white collar people, But Sania’s clients included criminals and paedophiles.
The girls were more like sex slaves with no control over their lives. It is hard to imagine kids being lined up for these sex maniacs and the best the children could pray for was the customer being less ruthless. Drunkards and drug addicts were regular visitors. The girls fainted, cried and wished death, which never came.
During these months the girls were not allowed to interact with each other. “I could only once talk with a girl who said that she was from Baramulla and she did not have a mother and was reading in eight class when these people brought her here,” said Sania in her typical south Kashmiri accent. They were put in groups of four in one room which was guarded by men who ensured that they remained mute. It dawned to her that there were at least six Kashmiri girls from different districts. Some were as young as ten and most educated one was the girl that was studying in 11th standard.
Feeling pity for the fate of other girls, Sania says that a girl younger than her was sold for two lakh rupees to Mumbai.
During this time the girls were continuously beaten so that they don’t dare to break the discipline. They were given just one meal for bare survival. The fresh arrivals were usually kept in solitary confinement for the initial period.
After six months Ajay contacted Shugufta again and brought Sania back to Jammu. Sania felt scary at unseen future. In Jammu, Sania had to repeat her Delhi job under Shugufta’s supervision.
Once Shugufta took Sania to Jajjar Kotli. Here she was subjected to a brutal assault by four men, from whom Shugufta had received a handsome amount. Sania soon lost consciousness for next ten days. Her eyes had sunk, the body was bruised and she could hardly walk. Some weeks later when she was barely able to walk Sania’s arduous journey tiptoed.
Shugufta had a full-fledged gang with a connection from elites of society to lower middle-class people.
After spending some time in Jammu Shugufta and her gang worked out another plan for Sania. Madhu from Kanachak Jammu and a partner of Shugufta contacted one Chauhan of Delhi, who was on a lookout for buying a girl. The deal was fixed for one and a half lakh rupees for 15 days. Soon Madhu took Sania to Delhi and dumped her with Chauhan. It was the crescendo of her suffering as the violent Chauhan was too much to bear. For ten days Sania had to endure the beast. Not caring for anything Sania fought repeatedly with Chauhan and ultimately he was forced to connect Sania with Ajay.
Sania pleaded and begged Ajay to take her away from here. “Something transpired between them and I was taken to Jammu,” recalls Sania.
During all this time of slavery, the only thing she prayed was her release. She just wanted to see her family again. Her wish was granted on her return to Jammu. Police had some anonymous tip about the presence of a brothel in Trikuta Nagar.
The consequent raid on May 01, 2009 yielded Sania, Shugufta, Madhu alias Bimla Devi of Kanachak, Ajay Kumar, 25, son of Sajjan Kumar, of C-26 Danwal Nagar Ground Floor New Delhi and Sunny Mahajan alias Sonu, 27, son of Sushil Gupta 263-Rehari Colony Jammu.
As Sania told her ordeal to police, they contacted Sania’s parents. Sania was handed over to her parents and Bhaderwah police were given the custody of Shugufta and Madhu.
But all Shagufta needed to secure her releases was a cell phone. A few calls and an advocate rushed from Jammu. Shugufta and Madhu were released from Bhaderwah police lockup on May 19, 2008. People remember when lawyers and other guarantors came in luxurious cars with briefcases full of papers, more than what was needed for her release. During the days of her detention, Shugufta and Madhu could hardly feel away from home, as she had access to all the possible comforts and communication channels. Sania and her relatives feel Shugufta even managed to run her prostitution racket from the inside of police lockup.
Sania’s pleas with police fell on deaf ears and they wrote what they deemed was fit. “Police threatened me that my parents would be killed if I told anybody about it,” said Sania.
When police called Sania for her statement, she was put inside the lockup with Shugufta. Her parents were dragged out of police station, with Sania being in lockup for the entire day. “Inside the police station, Shugufta and police threatened her of dire consequences in case she opened her mouth,” says Sania’s father. Sania struggled to differentiate between her confinement in police lockup and her days of enslavement in those dark flats.
In both cases, Shugufta called the shots. Prior to her ordeal Sania had never gone beyond Kishtwar, but she is lucky to have just seen Delhi. Many other of her genre are still scattered all around India.
The crime of horrendous nature carries maximum imprisonment for 10 years for the criminals. The law says that even if there was consent from minor the sexual relationship with her is still treated as rape. Legal experts say that the criminals have to be booked under Section RPC 376 for rape and under section 366 of RPC for abduction. This is considered an offence of serious nature with the remote possibility of bail.
But in a state of Jammu and Kashmir where timber smuggler and a pickpocket can be booked under PSA for two years, the rapists and minor traffickers were let free.
Paedophiles are the only criminals in the western world which are treated at par with terrorists. There is a huge network of sophisticated security agencies all around these nations who continuously hunt for these devils. Of course here we have Jammu Kashmir Police, who can catch and kill militants in high mountains, far off caves, dense jungles, who boast of successfully thwarting suicide attacks, who listen to every word spoken on millions of mobiles in Kashmir, who have informers in every nook and corner of the state and they now get help from satellites too, but when it comes to cases like Sania, entire network crashes on the victim itself. Sania’s father is a landless labourer by profession and he has a large family to support. What can a poor family do against such a mighty security grid, where the criminals can dodge the law, manipulate the clauses, trick the system and of course trample the victims.
The only thing Sania’s family possess is their resolve to fight for the justice and bring criminals behind bars and victims away from brothels. But they feel helpless as to how will they accomplish this task when every odd is decked against them and history reveals no success for victims in such cases. Sania is free now, with horrible memories that may overshadow her future, but she is still lucky to escape the constant physical torment. Scorers of other Kashmiri girls, or maybe hundreds, are still in the grip of paedophiles and sex maniacs. Sania remembers that some girls were there for at least two years with no hope of escape.
While the criminals roam free, Sania’s still hasn’t got relief. Police recently turned up at their house. First, they thought that police might have arrested more criminals or recovered more such girls but they had a shock of lifetime when her father was accused of selling Sania.