Busted: a Maharashtra 'marriage bureau' that sold minor girls
Consider the scenario: a marriage bureau is being run by a social organisation, to help poor families in Latur city of Maharashtra. So far, so good.
Then, in July, a case of kidnapping of a minor girl comes to light. And suddenly, the lid is blown off the marriage bureau, which turns out to be the front for illegal activities, such as 'selling' unsuspecting minor girls across the country.
The police have arrested 10 gang members, including a woman with political connections.
How the gang was busted
Sudhakar Bavaskar, Assistant Police Inspector in-charge of MIDC police station in Latur, who investigated the matter, said: “We received a complaint on 4 July that a minor girl was missing from the city. Since it was a minor girl, a case of kidnapping was registered. During the investigations into the matter, we got a lead that the victim was seen with a woman who lived in the same area.”
This woman was then arrested, and, during the interrogation, spilled the beans on the entire racket.
“She revealed that the girl was sold to one Umesh Mane, a resident of village Sawarde in Sangli district. Following the information given by her, we zeroed in on Punam Shahane, Congress party worker from Latur. Subsequently, the remaining eight members of the gang were arrested,” said Bavkar.
“While the investigations were on, the victim managed to call her mother and narrated the ordeal she was going through. The details of the case were shared with Sangli police, who rescued the victim. However, Umesh Mane and his brother managed to escape,” Bavaskar said.
A Latur police team raided various places at Bidar, Ambejogai and Tasgaon, and arrested the gang.
Police have recovered diaries containing contact numbers of thousands of people, suspected to be clients of the gang.
“All the accused are currently in police custody, and we are questioning them to get information about their activities,” Bavaskar said. The investigators believe that the gang might have sold minor girls in 14 districts of the state.
The victim, who is now reunited with her family, narrated how the ordeal happened.
“It was on 1 July that two persons approached me when I was going to school. They came close to me and offered a chocolate. The duo started talking to me and while talking, one of them tried to tie my mouth with a cloth. When I resisted, the other person held my hands and forced me on a two-wheeler and fled the scene.”
She was taken to village Sawarde immediately and sold off to Mane. She was subjected to torture there. It was only on 25 July that she managed to call her mother when no one was around.
Bavaskar said the gang identified poor families who had minor daughters. Gang members would approach the family and lure them, giving assurances that their daughter would be married off to a well-to-do groom. At times, the gang would assure the family money in return.
“Unsuspecting families would fall prey to the gang and approve the marriage. Though projected as a marriage, the gang would actually sell the girl to the person. We are now questioning them to get more details of their crimes,” he said.
The gang would sell the girls for Rs 3-4 lakh each.
Thanks to Latur's location on the Maharashtra-Telangana border, it is easy for criminals to escape after committing the crime. This, according to Bavaskar, poses a major hurdle for police.
Negligent attitude towards women's safety
The incident has highlighted the negligent attitude of the authorities towards women’s safety.
According to sources in the Home ministry, around 300 women and girls have gone missing from Latur over the last one year, and nothing has been done to trace them.
Nationalist Congress Party MLC Vidya Chavhan said: “This is serious cause for concern, and the government must act to prevent such crimes. Women’s safety is the most important issue in the state today. I will take it up in the House tomorrow.”