KOLKATA, INDIA – Seven years ago, Nakul Bera thought he was invincible. He ran two brothels with nearly 50 young women he had trafficked into a port town three hours outside Kolkata.
Customers knew they could pay a few dollars to choose a young woman to rape. The women knew they were trapped. One victim said there were only two ways to get out of the brothel: “You either get sold to another brothel, or you die.”
Bera remains one of the most brutal brothel owners IJM has ever encountered. Survivors rescued from his brothels shared harrowing stories of rape, beatings and even murder. Bera was feared by the community and operated his violent business uncontested by police.
“I can even rape a girl and get away with it, that is how much power I have,” Bera told one of the survivors who made it out of his horrific brothel. “I will never be put in jail.”
But today, Bera is behind bars. He has been serving a ten-year prison sentence since he was convicted for sex trafficking crimes and rape in March 2013, and this month he was convicted in a second case. It was the first time in West Bengal history that a criminal has been convicted twice for sex trafficking crimes.
His second ten-year sentence is retroactive, beginning from the time he entered custody. He will serve both sentences concurrently.
Bera’s conviction comes in the same month as several other traffickers are also facing strong sentences, and police are leading more anti-trafficking rescue operations than ever before.
Biswas continues: “But with interventions, police trainings, and convictions, things are changing.”
Two days after Bera’s second conviction, a nearby court sentenced five other traffickers to seven years imprisonment, making history as the largest number of convictions secured in a single case in this area. Over the past two years, local courts have convicted five influential brothel owners for sex trafficking related offences.
“For many years this area was known to have brothel owners operating with impunity, thinking they were above the law,” says Biju Mathew, Director of IJM Kolkata. “But these cases prove that the police and the courts will not allow brothel owners to commit crimes against the poor.”
As these cases conclude, other stories of freedom are just beginning.
“What’s so exciting about the incredible momentum we’re seeing in Kolkata is the driver behind it,” explains Mathew. “Six years ago, just about every rescue operation depended on us gathering evidence and building a case. But now, police are regularly coming to us with solid cases and simply asking for our assistance on the operation. 13 of the 17 operations we’ve had so far this year were initiated by police.”
Just this week in the very same region where Bera once reigned with impunity, IJM helped police rescue four young women from another brothel. An IJM staff member on the operation described the brothel: "The other name for it is hell. It’s so dirty, so dingy, so suffocating. I just wanted to get the girls out."
The darkness is still very real inside these brothels, but the changing response is illuminating a new future. The recent rescue operation was conducted with speed and professionalism. The police unit arrested eight suspects and finalized all of the necessary paperwork in less than six hours—a process that has taken days in the past.
“Now traffickers in this area don’t act with impunity. They know they will not only be arrested, but also convicted,” said Biswas. “We are more hopeful than ever to see the end of impunity for trafficking.”