IJM Kolkata: Brothel Closed, Entire Community Benefits

Footage from inside the brothel that has been closed by government officials in Kolkata
Footage from inside the brothel that has been closed by government officials in Kolkata

KOLKATA, INDIA – In November 2011, a brothel where young girls were regularly raped for profit was ordered permanently closed by authorities – a critical step in ending the cycle of abuse, and one that hadnever been undertaken in the region a single time until a precedent-setting IJM case last year.

The brothel's owner had been arrested a year earlier during an IJM-assisted operation, when police rescued two young women from forced prostitution in his brothel. On the night of the rescue operation, other owners and employees from neighboring brothels in the crowded red-light district gathered in the streets to watch. They whispered fearfully, hardly believing that the man who had run his business of commercial sexual exploitation with impunity for years had actually been caught. If he could go down, so could they.

"The owner of this brothel is the most influential man in the area – no one else even comes close. Everyone knows him," explains a member of IJM Kolkata staff. When police first entered the brothel to search for girls who had been trafficked, the owner and the managers did not attempt to run away or even try to conceal their illegal activities – they had been operating with impunity for years and had no reason to believe anyone would interfere with their business.

"[Closing this brothel] is an important accomplishment in a string of accomplishments necessary to ending perpetrator impunity in the area...the entire community benefits."  
– Saptarshi Biswas, IJM Kolkata advocate

On the night of the operation, everything changed: the powerful brothel owner was arrested and jailed, to be tried for human trafficking. However, despite the fact that the owner has been in prison for over a year, until recently, his brothel continued to operate – and he continued to profit at the expense of the women who were routinely exploited inside the dark walls of the successful brothel.

According to the anti-trafficking law in India, a brothel should be closed when underage girls are being sold for sex. However, this part of the law is rarely enforced. Even when a brothel owner is arrested, the brothel often continues to operate under the supervision of the owner's partners and assistants.

On November 17, 2011, a District Magistrate passed the order to have the brothel shut down permanently. In time, the brothel will be repossessed by the government, and the building will be repurposed to benefit the community.

IJM lawyers continue to work with the local public prosecutor to build a strong anti-trafficking case against the suspect. "This is an important accomplishment in a string of accomplishments necessary to ending perpetrator impunity in the area," says Saptarshi Biswas, an IJM advocate who has worked closely on the case. "With this brothel closed, the entire community benefits."

Sex Trafficking, South Asia