The suspects have admitted to trafficking more than a thousand girls, an acknowledgement that has sent shock waves across Bangladesh, with people questioning what the law-enforcement agencies did to prevent the massive, organised crime.
Groups working on human rights and trafficking wonder whether influential people or the law enforcers themselves were involved with the sex trafficking rings.
Young women, who recently managed to flee the traffickers in India and return home have now gathered the courage to speak out and take legal action after the arrests in India and Bangladesh.
The police say they act immediately whenever they receive information, but other agencies also need to be more proactive to stop crimes like human trafficking.
VIDEO LEADS TO ARRESTS, CASES
Rifatul Islam, also known as TikTok Ridoy Babu, 21, who took the woman in the video to India after promising her a job, was the coordinator of the gang, the police say.
He was among six people arrested in India after the video of the assault went viral on social media. The other suspects are also Bangladeshis. They are also accused of raping the young woman.
Ashraful Islam alias Rafi, 30, one of several people arrested in Bangladesh, led the ring. After making arrests in border areas, the Rapid Action Battalion said Ridoy had helped Rafi traffic around 50 women since the duo had met two years ago.
The international human-trafficking ring had around 50 members, including foreigners, who trick women into travelling to India by promising them jobs at markets, superstores and salons, the RAB said.The culprits then drugged their victims and filmed them in vulnerable positions. They then used the videos to blackmail them into performing paid sex work.
Rafi had previously worked as a driver and clothing trader in Bengaluru for eight years, during which time he came into contact with the human traffickers. He later formed his own gang, RAB said.
The woman in the video was assaulted because she had helped two others flee the traffickers, according to the law enforcers.
Meanwhile, a victim escaped the ring and returned home on May 7. She started a case against 12 people at Hatirjheel Police Station in Dhaka on Jun 1 after the police traced her.
Another case was filed under the anti-trafficking law at the same police station by a garment factory worker on Jun 10. She alleged that her husband Jahidul Islam Rony, a 27-year-old bus conductor and drug addict, sold her off to traffickers for Tk 40,000.
The group offered her a job at an old-age home for a monthly salary of Tk 30,000 and took her to Chennai where they forced her into sex work. She escaped and returned home in May.
According to the victims’ accounts in the cases, they were trafficked through the border in Satkhira, along with the several other women.
Members of the gang used houses and motorcycles at the borders to traffic the women.
They took the victims’ photos and information to create fake identity cards as soon as they entered India.
The victims said they saw other Bangladeshi girls in the houses they were taken through in several Indian cities, including Bengaluru and Chennai.
Noor Khan, secretary general of legal rights group Ain O Salish Kendra, raised questions over how it was possible to take so many girls across the border unbeknownst to the police, RAB, Border Guard Bangladesh and other agencies.
The trafficking of 500 Dhaka-based girls to India should be considered a terrible crime and a huge failure of the law enforcement agencies, he said.“So many incidents have occurred without any signs. Despite the numerous agencies at work, we haven’t noticed a thing. We’ve only come to know about it when the video went viral on social media.”
“It means the agencies and organisations working to prevent these kinds of incidents and spending tens of millions of taka every year have nothing to show for it but failure. They must take responsibility for this failure,” Khan said,
“There may be weaknesses in the activities used to raise awareness and in law enforcement. And these incidents demonstrate the incompetence of the government cell formed to prevent human trafficking.”
“Now we need to find out whether someone from the law-enforcing agencies or anyone from an influential section of society is connected to this. Something as huge as this cannot operate in complete silence.”
Salma Ali, president of Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers' Association and an adviser to the Human Trafficking Monitoring Cell under the home ministry, said many of the victims might have been trafficked in a time when the coronavirus pandemic hampered surveillance.
“The leaders of these human-trafficking groups are still at large. It is time to arrest them and others involved in these groups,” she said.
Many of the victims were tempted by the traffickers’ promise to make them stars on the video-sharing network TikTok. Suspect Ridoy was well known in Dhaka’s Moghbazar for shooting TikTok videos. “Did law-enforcers not notice them? Did they only come to know about the situation after the [torture] video went viral?” Salma asked.
Many of the victims who had returned from India previously said they had been caught by law enforcers several times, including in India, but that the traffickers had organised their release, she said.
“Influential people have been named in drug smuggling incidents at various times. It is very much important to find out who is backing these human-trafficking groups as well. Simply arresting the small fry will not work.”
WHAT POLICE SAY
bdnews24.com asked police whether they had knowledge of the human-trafficking incidents and whether they admit to their failure in preventing the crimes.
Sohel Rana, an assistant inspector general of the police, had the following to say in a written statement:
“Monitoring the growing number of interactions on social media is a challenge. The technical capacity of the police has been enhanced to tackle this challenge. The police are monitoring things 24/7.”
He said many people are being arrested and brought to justice over different crimes because the police are taking immediate action upon receiving information.
Rana mentioned a recent nationwide crackdown on human trafficking after 26 Bangladeshi victims were shot dead in Libya.
He said the other agencies also need to work more actively to prevent organised crimes like human trafficking, saying that police are only one barrier to these crimes.