The #MeToo movement may have started in America, but sexual assault and harassment is a worldwide problem. This week, police in the Indian state Telangana have busted a trafficking ring involving travel agents who allegedly sold women from coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh to Arab sheikhs in Gulf countries as sex slaves. The women had been promised lucrative positions as domestic workers.
Special operations teams were dispatched to arrest six travel agents operating out of Dubai, all natives of East Godavari and West Godavari districts, including the apparent kingpin Srinu Babu, who worked under the alias Dubai Snu.
“The ring was busted following an investigation into the complaint lodged by a victim with the Ghatkesar police on the city outskirts,” Rachakonda police commissioner Mahesh Bhagawat told the Hindustan Times.
According to police, Dubai Sinu and his associates, who have been working as travel agents in Dubai, Muscat and other Gulf countries for the last 10 years, have been luring married women from coastal Andhra districts through their local agents to the Gulf countries promising them jobs as domestic servants, cooks, caretakers, and babysitters. They offered women a monthly salary up to US$500.
“Several innocent women, who got carried away by attractive offers, left their families to travel to Dubai, Muscat, etc. Upon arrival, Sinu and others handed over them to local manpower agencies that sold them on to Arab sheikhs, who used them as sex slaves. The hapless women had no chance to return to India, as they realized that they were brought to the Gulf countries on tourist/visit visas and not job visas. Their passports and other documents were seized by the local manpower agencies,” the police commissioner said.
One victim who travelled to Dubai in February 2017 realized that Dubai Sinu and his associates had cheated her, and refused to succumb to agency pressures to become a sex slave of the Arab Sheikhs. At the same time, her husband also went to Dubai in search of work and found his wife in a miserable condition. She told him that she was kept in a small room where several other Telugu women were also being held.
“Her husband fought with Dubai Sinu for three months to send back his wife. With the help of his relatives and friends in his village in East Godavari, he managed to bring pressure on Dubai Sinu and subsequently, the couple returned to India. Later, she lodged a complaint with the Ghatkesar police,” the commissioner said.
Slavery is thriving in the Middle East, and it takes many forms. Consider the deplorable working conditions of foreign construction workers in Qatar, or the denial of basic rights such as freedom of movement for migrant domestic workers in Lebanon.
The captured agents confessed that they had sent more than 100 women into slavery, and that there are at least 50 agents in East and West Godavari districts involved in the trafficking ring. The investigation continues, but there has been no information released regarding the Sheiks involved in the case.