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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Chp 774. When Cops raid a Spa

Every time there is news related to Spas in the Mizo online world, like the recent tragic event of a Mizo therapist who lost her life in Mumbai, the issue about the dignity and reputation of Mizo girls working at various Spas across India always pops up.

And as usual, it is filled with the usual rhetoric of how it is a demeaning job filled with shady deals and sleazy tasks where women must fulfil the most perverse demands of their clients, straight out of a Human Digest story.

It is so easy to sit in the sweet comfort of our home hundreds of miles away smoking "V" cigarette and sipping on thingpui sen while criticizing these women (and few men) who work extremely hard at Spas, usually more than 12 hours a day and 6 days a week, with no holidays on weekends and public holidays, as that is their busiest time of the week.

Am I saying those people who work at Spas are all morally virtuous and celibate? Of course not, just as how I'm saying all those who work at any other industries like the medical field, corporate sector or administrative service aren't either. It's a big pond, and there will always be different fishes in each pond.

But we continue to judge such women under the same microscope, especially when the police "raids" a Spa and "takes them into custody", we immediately imagine the worst and accuse them of giving us Mizos a bad name. So, why don't you just take a step back, sit down, and let me take you through the exact journey of what happens when someone is "taken into custody" during a Spa raid.

As some of you may know, I live in Koregaon Park here in Pune. It is a prime area, considered to be one of the more expensive localities in Pune in terms of rent and cost of living. There are a lot of luxury Hotels and Day Spas in Koregaon Park (KP), and many Mizos work at such places. Most of them stay in their Spa accommodations within KP itself, provided by their Spa employers. Hence, at least 80% of the Mizos currently living in KP work at various Day Spas and luxury Hotels.

I got to know a lot of these girls really well, and we hung out many times. They were some of the nicest people I had come to know. In fact, I wrote my two fictional short-stories The Beast: Sins of a Woman and its concluding part 2  Neighbour of the Beast based on many of their experiences and conversations I had with them. [Do read them later if you haven't yet]

The most important thing you should know is that whenever the police raids a Spa and takes all the employees into custody, it DOES NOT mean ALL the employees are guilty of doing "something illegal". It could be because of various reasons - the owner of the Spa didn't have a proper permit, or didn't renew his license, or one of the therapists was soliciting an undercover cop, etc. In such cases, it is a common rule for the cops to take every single employee present in Spa at that time into custody (the lucky ones are those therapists who weren't at the Spa at that moment due to different shift timings, and such therapists aren't required to report to the police and surrender).

And by "taken into custody", that doesn't mean they were "thrown inside a lock-up or prison". This is where most people get it wrong. It just means those women were taken to a Rescue Home. Big difference. I've known four Mizos so far who had been through such an ordeal across during the five years that I've stayed here in KP, and they were all brave enough to share their experiences with me for my blog update, so here is basically a timeline of what happens when cops raid a Spa.

The Raid.

Many of you must have seen those videos on Facebook, of police barging into Spas and recording on their mobile phones and video cameras, with half naked clients quickly putting on their clothes etc. Well, things aren't always that dramatic. The four women I asked each said there was never anybody recording anything. Instead everything was done very politely and there was no shouting or banging of doors etc.

Around two men in civilian clothes and another four in police uniform entered their Spa, followed by a few women constable and one woman clad in a burkha. The civvies were the ones giving the orders.

After speaking to the manager, the female constables called all the female therapists into one of the rooms, where they were told to hand over their mobile phones and ID cards. And then they were told to leave all their belongings behind and led outside the Spa where there was a Bolero waiting for them. They got inside and the women constables sat with them, while the male cops sat in another vehicle.

All this while, the therapists had no idea what was going on, while the female constables lied to them by telling them everything would be alright, and that pacified them.

They were taken to a Police Station in Koregaon Park, where they were led into a room and told to wait. The door was unlocked and they were free to roam around but couldn't call anybody as their mobile phones were confiscated.

After around 30 minutes, they were all told to get in the Bolero again, and accompanied by the same women constables, they were driven to the Police Commissioner's office.

At the Commissioner's office, they were questioned one by one by an officer inside a room, and he apparently even went through their mobile phones. Most of the questions they were asked were about their manager or owner, and how long they'd worked for him and how well they knew him etc. Frankly, I was surprised that none of these four girls were asked if they had performed sexual favours for their clients.

After around 2 hours at the Commissioner's office, they were taken back to the Police Station in Koregaon Park, where they were offered some snacks and tea, after which they were told to get inside the Bolero again, and finally taken to the Rescue Home.

It was only then that they realized they were going to be put at the Rescue Home.

The Rescue Home.

There are a number of Rescue Homes for women in Pune. People taken from Spas are usually kept in the one at Hadapsar or the one at Mundhwa. These two Rescue Homes serve as a destination for women rescued from the flesh trade or from human trafficking.

The one in Hadapsar was a narrow but tall building, and a female cop stood guard at the gate entrance. Barbed wires covered the compound walls. The ground floor consisted of an office space, and most of the employees were women.

After walking across the office area and filling up some forms, they were taken inside through a kitchen, and right opposite the kitchen was a flight of steps that led upstairs. There was a chain gate in front of the steps which remained locked most of the time.

They were taken up the steps which led to the bedroom (dormitory). The bedroom consisted of a number of triple-bunk beds and they were all assigned a bunk each. Each bunk had a comfortable thick mattress with bedsheet, pillow with pillow case and a thin blanket. They were all clean.

As they were assigned their beds, they were also given toiletries which consisted of a fresh toothbrush, toothpaste, body soap and a soap for washing clothes, along with a sachet of Clinic plus shampoo. They were also given 1-2 pairs of clean Kurta kameeze to wear, based on their body size, which were all of random design and not a "uniform".

All four women I spoke to, who were taken to the Rescue Home at different time period, all said the other inmates were all extremely friendly. There were women of different age and nationality, most of them Thais and Eastern Europeans. There were also a lot of women from Bangladesh, who were duped into a promise of a better life only to fall a victim of human trafficking. There was no "jailhouse bully" or somebody trying to throw their weight around, everybody was just super caring and understanding.

The women admitted they cried themselves to sleep when the actual realization hit them that they were going to be like that for the next couple of days.

The next morning, the lights were turned on at 5 AM and they were all woken up by the senior inmates. After brushing and doing their toilet business, they were taken to the terrace where they all did Yoga and other breathing exercises.

At 7 AM, breakfast was served. The senior inmates who had been there for a long time were the ones who cooked the breakfast in the kitchen downstairs. They were the only ones allowed to come out of the locked gate near the stairs.

Breakfast usually consisted of Poha, Upma, Idli and sometimes Dosas. They each had a plate and a cup which they rinsed and used in the hall next to the terrace.

After breakfast, they headed back to their bedroom downstairs and relaxed for a bit.

At 10 AM, they were all told to assemble again upstairs.

There were a couple of tutors waiting for them (volunteers from different organizations outside) who were going to teach them how to stitch clothes, learn English etc. They could select whichever course they wanted to learn. Even the English tutors were further divided, like one tutor was teaching a group the basic A, B, C, while another tutor was teaching a different group a little bit more advanced English sentence structures.

Lunch was served at around 1 PM, and it usually consisted of a veg thaali, with chicken being served on Sundays.

After lunch, they could relax for a bit, and after that, all those women who had an appointment with the Court were called out, and they were escorted out of the Rescue Home by female constables, where there was a vehicle waiting for them to take them to Court.

The rest of the women at the Rescue Home continued with the learning courses.

Around 4 PM, snacks were served, which usually consisted of vada pav and tea.

Once all those women who had gone for their Court appointment were back, dinner was served, and after dinner, it was time to relax and chat with others, until "lights out", which was at 9 PM. And then the same routine repeated every day.

There were no recreational facilities like playing cards or board games, and some of the younger inmates would run around playing "tag" with each other. Other than that, the only way to pass the time was to chat with the others.

For those inmates who were taken to the Court during the day, I guess it was also more or less just a formality process for the State to verify that they were still staying at the Rescue Home. They were all seated in the courtroom, and when their names were called out, they had to stand up, and after a couple of exchanges between the lawyers (none of the women were questioned), the next name was called, and finally once all names were completed, they were escorted back to the Rescue Home by the female constables.

Some of the women I interviewed told me that there was a really nice female constable who would buy things for them with her own money, and even called up the phone numbers of their friends and family to tell them that they were doing fine.

The Release.

Eventually, they all stayed in the Rescue Home for more than a month!

The problem was that, getting them out of the Rescue Home was (and is) an extremely difficult process. Even the Pune Mizo Welfare Association (PMWA) was powerless to help such women, because only a direct blood relative could bail them out, that too after going through many hoops of bureaucratic red-tape. Even cousins or uncles and aunts were not allowed to bail out such individuals.

Hence, whenever such incidents arise, the best the PMWA could do was speak to the concerned relatives in Mizoram and instruct them on what procedure to take. And I am really proud of our PMWA for going the extra mile to help out such families.

Basically, you would need to speak to the Social Welfare department in Mizoram about this issue, and they in turn would contact their Social Welfare counterpart in Maharashtra. Once all required papers had been done, the direct blood relatives of the girl (father, mother, brother or sister) had to travel to Pune.

Once in Pune, PMWA members acted as a guide if required, and the family had to get a confirmed stamp from a Magistrate proving that they were indeed blood relatives of the inmate by showing documents such as a ration card.

Meanwhile, the Rescue Home officials were informed that the particular inmate was about to be released soon, so she was taken out of the Rescue Home with a female constable escort and taken to her Spa or apartment to get a change of fresh clothes and collect her employment agreement and work certificate, like a training certificate.

There was usually a sad and tear-filled goodbye moment with the other inmates, with whom they had bonded quite well during the past 1-2 months, and some of the other inmates would joke, "See you again soon!" :D

Once their family members had presented all the required paperwork at the office in the ground floor, along with the employment agreement and work certificate from the therapist, they were finally free to go.

Yayy, freedommmmm!

The Conclusion.

So this is what Spa therapists usually endure when their Spa gets raided by the police.

Now just imagine, before you judge these women again, think of all they had to go through, every day, repeat again and again, for 1-2 straight months, including the utter embarrassment of having to summon down their own dad or mom to bail them out (who also usually happened to be financially weak and could not afford air travel), all for a crime that they themselves did not commit but paid the price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just imagine that.

And I don't want to trivialize it, but one of their biggest complaints was about the food. I have no problem eating such food every day because of my upbringing, but they were definitely not used to it. Imagine having Mizo cuisines all your life and then coming to a new location and suddenly abstaining from it and eating a completely different dish for 1-2 months?

Yes, I know, there should be awareness made about working in shady Day Spas, but not all therapists qualify enough to work at 5-star Hotel Spas. And one can't really know which Day Spa is shady or not until the policeman in civilian clothing comes knocking at your door, by which time, it is already too late.

I hope my blog post managed to enlighten some of you to some degree, and might make you hesitate a bit next time before judging someone when something similar happens again. You need to walk a mile in their shoes first, and I hope this post was able to help you do that to some extent. Half a mile maybe?

Cheers for now, and feel free to leave a comment.


Rinliana Ralte said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cobte Khiangte said...

MMA or PMWA? 😎

davidsinate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rinliana Ralte said...

on my mind :

rubbing shoulders with illegal non-mizo indians from Bagha, Dholai, and such.
never having met the true indians further on down the road, we go yapping "vâichhia vâichhia".
it's kinda like that with 'this and that notion' about our women working in 'raidable' places.

Mizohican said...

Thank you for all your comments :)

Whats up with all the deleted comments? :(

Nipin said...

Sad.Hope Mizoram gives you adequate employment opportunities that you don't have to go through this mess.God bless all. Peace be with you

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