Bar girls – another face of trafficking

By Matters India Reporter

Bengaluru, July 31, 2019: Rinku (name changed) came to Bengaluru from Assam lured by the promise of a decent job. She ended up in a bar.

“The condition of bar girls is worse than that of prostitutes,” says the woman who has managed to escape the drudgery, thanks to some NGOs, including a Salesian initiative, that work in the Karnataka state capital where more than 4,000 women like Rinku languish in bars.

M K Ashoka of the Deccan Chronicle, unraveled the “sad, often dangerous lives” of Bengaluru’s bar dancers in an article on July 30, World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. He says as estimated 5,000 children go missing in India every year, and as many as 50,000 women.

“Only about one-fifth of the missing children cases are solved, the rest just vanish. They are trafficked for a number of reasons: prostitution, beggary, bonded labor and even for medical reasons like organ harvesting,” Ashoka says.

Bengaluru’s bar dancers, lured with promises of good jobs then forced by agents into this profession, are among the victims of this rampant trafficking. And as their work is often mistaken for prostitution, their voices are rarely heard.

Rinku told Ashoka that after she was brought to Bengaluru she was made a bar girl and eventually, pushed into the flesh trade. “I could not pull myself out as I had to support my family and I endured in silence, the pain of coming to this city. And though I earn well now, this is not what I wanted. The horrible memories of being a bar girl still haunts me.”

Women like her are transported from northern and northeastern states with the promise of a good job in a metropolitan city. “Once here, they are confined like animals. There are over 30 bands in the city, where bar girls are employed, with over 50 girls sometimes working at a single establishment.

These establishments are located mainly in Indiranagar, Ashoknagar, Cubbon Park and Wilson Garden, although areas like Koramangala and Indiranagar also have some.

The women are told this is a temporary arrangement that they need to work for live bands or in dance bars for a short while, until they are shifted to other jobs. This assurance will never be fulfilled.

The girls are classified by their employers. A ‘good looking’ girl can reportedly fetch the agent between 25,000 and 30,000 rupees from the bar owners. The girls themselves get fixed salaries. In many cases, these girls are either too afraid or too ashamed to tell their parents about their actual work.

According to activist Chetana Theerthahalli, Indians still don’t understand the concept of a ‘bar girl.’ The majority, she says, simply think of them as prostitutes. “We need some maturity as a society to understand that this is a profession for many girls,” she adds.

Another bar girl told Ashoka that she didn’t know much about dancing. “I had been promised a job, then forcefully put in a dance bar,” she said. She describes herself as ‘average-looking’, but still found that “people showered her with jewelry and money.

But all this money is taken by the middlemen,” she says, adding, “We are forced to live in bathroom-like rooms. After dancing, the middleman sends us to men who pay him. I get nothing. Another girl came from Siliguri but I don’t know what happened to her.”

Girls who are classified as ‘average looking’ fetch agents between 5,000 to 10,000 rupees. The good-looking ones can command up to 50,000 rupees at the time of purchase. When they are made to work in dance bars, they receive a monthly salary of 25,000 rupees. Recently, after much struggle, these bar dancers have begun to get a share of the money and valuables that they are gifted, says a source.

“As the whole world condemns human trafficking in one voice on the occasion of World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, celebrated on July 30, society still does turn a blind eye towards the human trafficking that continues to thrive,” bemoans Ashoka.

Lokeshwar, a retired police officer, says human trafficking is done for a different purpose. It is done for prostitution, beggary, beggary, bonded labor and medical purposes, too. Among all these, medical reasons are the cruelest. Their body parts are taken and nobody knows what happens to them afterwards,” he says.

Father Mathew Thomas, xecutive director Don Bosco who is engaged in the rescue operations of trafficked and runaway children, explains that his organization rescue between 12 and 15 children every day in Bengaluru.

NGOs like Don Bosco work alongside the police to keep a check on human trafficking. Their volunteers, who are present in places like bus stands and railway station, keep the vigil.

The police department in Bengaluru, which is taking the issue very seriously, has established Special Juvenile Police Units in every police station. A woman cop and a police officer of the rank of head constable will be in charge of the unit. Whenever, there is human trafficking and rescue, the victims will be handed over to Child Welfare Committee (CWC). CWC ensures that the victims reach home safe.

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