In 2017, a 16-year-old girl from Kovvuru in Andhra Pradesh met a short filmmaker from Nellore. The 32-year-old man, Zakir Hussain, who also goes by the name Mahesh, had sex with the minor girl with the promise that he would bring her opportunities to work in films, police said. Two years later, on November 5, Zakir showed her a video of the two of them having sex, which he had recorded without her knowledge, and according to police, he tried to blackmail her into engaging in sex work, and threatened to leak her video on social media if she refused.
The young woman, who is now 18 years old, rejected his threats, and instead went to the police. “Based on her complaint, we were able to apprehend Zakir. On interrogating him, we got to know about five brothels that he was associated with across the town. He often trafficked women to these brothels at a 50 per cent commission,” said DySP J Srinivasa Reddy, who is investigating the case.
On Thursday, Nellore police arrested several members of a network involved in the trafficking of women for sex work. Apart from Zakir, police also arrested 8 ‘organisers’, who had been managing the brothels, and 5 ‘customers’, on raiding brothels in Chinna Bazar, Nawabpet, Dargamitta, Vedayapalem and Balajinagar areas of the town.
“The complainant fearlessly approached the police and got him arrested. She is now safely back with her parents. But we have found that at least 2 of the organisers had also been blackmailed by Zakir into sex work, after promising them a film career and blackmailing them with videos of sexual intercourse,” Srinivasa Reddy said.
Seven women who had been involved in sex work in these five brothels have also been taken into police custody and will be sent to rescue homes. Police said that while the organisers were all from Nellore town, some of the sex workers had come from other regions like Telangana and West Bengal.
Five different cases have been registered across police stations under IPC Section 370 for trafficking, and also under the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act. A case has also been registered based on the complaint of the woman whose complaint helped the police bust the network, under the charges of criminal intimidation and rape under the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act.
Police have confiscated 14 cell phones from the accused persons, and are investigating if there were any more victims of trafficking and blackmailing.