Around 7:15 pm on 4 October 2016, police from the Gurugram Sector 29 police station raided a spa and massage parlour in the locality. The next evening, around the same time, the Delhi police-run Facebook page 'Delhi Police for Northeast Folks' was updated with a post headlined "12 NE girls arrested by the police for flesh trade (prostitution) at Gurgaon city".
The update posted by nodal officer for people from the northeast, IGP Robin Hibu, also claimed that the Gurugram Sector 29 police had busted the largest ever prostitution ring. It also included details of the places the 12 girls belonged to – 'Unfortunately, all of them are from different NE state's towns of Churachanpur, Chandel, Imphal, Aizwal, Lunglai, Guwahati and Darjeeling'. The statement also said that illegal activities were being carried out in the guise of spas and massage parlours. Many more women from the region involved in the flesh trade lived in rented houses in Munirka, Mahipalpur and Kotla Mubarakpur in Delhi and would be arrested soon, the statement added.
No Evidence of Flesh Trade
That particular Facebook post got more than a thousand likes and was shared more than 200 times. It also saw some of the most parochial and chauvinistic comments on women from the north-east in general and the sensitive issue in particular that actually needs careful handling. This is ironic, given that the Facebook page was created to prevent northeast people from getting harassed and it is perhaps for this reason that such a nodal officer was even appointed.
Soon the news – that '12 NE girls were arrested by police for flesh trade' – went viral on social media, only to be picked up by the electronic and print media later. Feeding on the existing stereotypical notions against the northeast and its people, the news spread across the length and the breadth of the country.
Things took a different turn when on 10 October 2016, the Northeast Support Centre & Helpline (NESCH) team met the Deputy Commissioner of Police (East) Deepak Saharan at his office in Gurugram, Haryana.
The DCP said that 25 people were arrested, out of which 15 are females and only four are from northeast India. No evidence of their involvement in the flesh trade has been found.
Later, when contacted, the DCP denied having said that 12 women from the northeast had been arrested. He had, the DCP said, only given a list of the names of those arrested to the concerned Delhi police nodal officer for the northeast. "I have never said anything like that. You should ask the concerned nodal officer about the comment," he said.
Dr Alana Golmei, Founding Member & General Secretary of NESCH, said that a few days ago, they had met the four ladies from the northeast and got their statements. While two of the four females are receptionists, two others are therapists. "They were even ready to undergo a medical examination to prove their innocence. Instead, the police took them straight to the police station," Dr Golmei said.
"Whatever happened there was recorded on the CCTV and I have proof of that. After 5-10 minutes, the police took me and other staff members to the Gurugram Sector 29 police station. There were 15 females, two from Manipur (including me), two from Mizoram and 11 other staff members who don't belong to the northeast. After taking to us to the police station, the police accused us of being prostitutes. This is completely wrong and shocking. On 5 October 2016, it was even more shocking to see false reports in the media and on social media saying that 12 girls from the northeast were arrested by police for flesh trade (prostitution) in Gurugram."
~ Statement given by one of the four girls from the northeast to NESCH
People From Northeast Live in Fear
Meanwhile, panic has gripped people from the northeast residing in places like Munirka and Kotla in Delhi after the statement that similar raids and arrests will take place in those areas.
When contacted over the phone, IGP Robin Hibu refused to comment on the matter and avoided speaking on the subject. He suggested that we contact the Gurugram police instead.
"Such irresponsible statements only make matters worse and instead of providing security and instilling confidence in people from the northeast, the nodal officer of the northeast cell is triggering panic and rumours now. Anyway, we people don't feel safe living in these places. Now everyone will think that all of us are engaged in flesh trade, which is not true.
Student, Resident of Munirka (on condition of anonymity)"
Bruce K Thangkhal, media in-charge of NESCH, said that such false accusations against the four northeast girls has not only damaged their image but also that of women from the northeast as a whole, in the national capital and the rest of the country. Many women from the northeast working in the hospitality sector have reported to the NESCH that this incident has left a negative impact and many of them fear losing their jobs, never to be employed again.
An Instance of Defamation
The NESCH has termed it a clear case of defamation and threatened to take legal steps if the concerned police officers won't issue a clarification and apology. The NESCH has approached the Gurugram DCP with a letter, requesting him to carry out a proper investigation and take necessary steps. When contacted, the DCP, however, tried to evade the questions and instead tried to shift the blame to the concerned police station. This writer tried to contact the SHO of the police station, but the officer was not available. A blame game has begun and nobody in the Delhi/NCR police departments seems to be owning up or taking responsibility for the blunder.
(The writer is a Guwahati-based freelance journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)