In February 2019, officers of the Thiruvambady police station received a tip off via a phone call and broke into a two-storey building in Kakkadampoyil in Kozhikode. In one of the rooms on the second floor was a young girl and three older men. The girl was rescued by the team of officers and her three abusers immediately arrested.
However, subsequent investigation into the case blew the lid open on what officials suspect to be a much bigger sex racket involving many other victims, including minors, that has been operating across Kerala and Karnataka, possibly since late 2018.
A year into investigating the case, the police have now arrested five key accused for trafficking, sexually abusing and exploiting the girl, who was 17 years old when she was rescued from Kakkadampoyil. They also discovered just days after the rescue that the survivor was pregnant from the sexual abuse she experienced – which was confirmed through a DNA test which matched with that of one of the accused.
Last year, the police arrested from Kozhikode P Mansoor (28) of Pookkottur, Malappuram; Nisar Babu of Thurakkal, Kondotty; and Muhammad Basheer (50), a resort owner from Cheekkode. In January 2020, 25-year-old Farzana, a native of Chikkamagaluru in Karnataka, and Riju aka Ilyas from Wayanad were also arrested from Bengaluru and Kerala respectively in relation to the same case. They were tracked down by the Kozhikode rural DySP, R Haridasan, who took charge of the controversial case.
The accused men and woman have been charged under IPC 376 D (gangrape), 370 (trafficking) and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) sections 5, 8 and 9 (aggravated penetrative sexual assault, sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault).
So, what tied the four accused in Kerala and a woman living far away in Karnataka to the same trafficking case? And how big was the sex racket that was busted in Kozhikode?
Chicken shop owner turns to flesh trade
According to DySP Haridasan, the racket was started sometime in 2018, when Mohammad Basheer – then a chicken shop owner – allegedly quit his poultry business and constructed a two-floor structure to set up the trade.
"Back then, there was a water park set up by a CPI(M) politician in Kakkadampoyil. Seeing scores of young girls and boys visit the park, Basheer believed it would be lucrative to set up a lodge-like space and lure young girls into sex work. However, by mid-2018, the water park was shut down for flouting environmental laws, and Basheer's 'business' was failing too," Haridasan told TNM.
Around the same time, in Chikkamagaluru, the victim was being brainwashed so she could be trafficked all the way to Wayanad. The woman allegedly responsible for brainwashing, tricking and trafficking the girl, then a class 8 student, is 25-year-old Farzana, the child's neighbour.
"The victim's parents had split, and theirs was not a financially stable family. Farzana would often speak to the minor and brainwash her that 'other jobs' could help her earn money quickly. She would groom her saying going to school was pointless," Haridasan said.
After months of this manipulation, Farzana allegedly trafficked the girl to Wayanad in Kerala in late 2018, where she was handed over to Riju akas Ilyas, the fifth accused in the case. The survivor was made to believe that she was going to Wayanad for ‘work’, and to say that her is 19 years old, police say.
According to the police, Ilyas worked as an agent who went on to sexually and financially exploit the minor for over two months. Till February 2019, the girl was allegedly sexually abused and exploited by an unknown number of persons in at least three resorts in Wayanad, facilitated by Ilyas.
"In order to evade suspicion, Ilyas ensured that the child was shifted to different resorts across Wayanad. The minor was given Rs 40,000 as remuneration by him. However, this was taken away by Farzana," Haridasan revealed.
Ilyas and Basheer had gotten acquainted through a few common connections. “The minor was picked up by accused number one, Mansoor, in a vehicle from a resort in Adivaram in Wayanad. From here, they drove down to Kozhikode, where Basheer also got involved,” the police official says.
It was only when the survivor was brought to Kakkadampoyil that her ordeal came to police’s notice after alert neighbours intimated the police on the fourth day she was there. In the tip off call, they said that a girl who looked less than 18 years old, and had been spotted near the building, Haridasan added.
Farzana, who was arrested from Bengaluru, as well as Ilyas are now in the custody of the Kerala police.
Accused attempts to flee by jumping out the window
On the day of the bust, the second-floor room in which the survivor and accused men were discovered had a few cots arranged shoddily, police recount. Three of the accused - P Mansoor, Nisar Babu and Mohammad Basheer - had been inside the room when they saw the police team approach the building. They were allegedly photographing the survivor to show to prospective customers.
"On noticing the police from the second-floor window, Nisar Babu - the second accused - jumped from the window on to a tree and slid down to flee from the scene. The third accused, Basheer, also attempted to run away. However, the police nabbed all of the three. The child was then brought back to the police station by the officers," Haridasan said.
On alerting the victim's family in Chikkamagaluru, her oldest sister confirmed that she was only 17, which was confirmed by her Aadhaar card also. “It was evident that the child had been groomed and instructed to lie [about her age] by her traffickers and abusers. On questioning her, she kept telling us that she was 19 years old," Haridasan added.
Pregnancy discovered after rescue
Soon after the rescue, the 17-year-old was produced before the Child Welfare Committee in Kozhikode, and later, housed at a home for women and children. She even began going to school. However, a week later, medical examination revealed that she was pregnant from the abuse.
"As per the guidelines of the CWC, a forensic examination of the foetus was carried out, for which blood samples of the three accused nabbed from the lodge were taken. It revealed a match between the DNA of the foetus with the second accused - Nisar Babu. The chargesheet and sections will now be altered based on this evidence," the DySP said.
The survivor was allowed to terminate the pregnancy safely.
Accused absconds from Kozhikode while on bail
Despite nabbing all the three accused found in the Kakkadampoyil lodge, the police are now in a spot as Nisar Babu is now absconding after he was released on bail.
"This man has a wife and four children. He was granted bail by the court, and on being released, absconded from the scene," Haridasan added.
Meanwhile, investigation into the case is ongoing, with scores of other accused possibly involved in the sex racket are yet to be identified by the Kozhikode police.
When asked if the police will also book the customers, Haridasan said that when they arrested Farzana in Bengaluru, they learnt that customers were asked for their ‘preference’ in terms of age and region. “On specifying this, they were sent pictures of women and the deal was sealed with online money transactions. For girls below 18, documents were fabricated by the agents to show that they are adults. In this case, the girl has identified a few men who abused her. Whoever she has identified will be arrested,” the DySP said.
He added that during the rescue itself last year, they had only found the survivor and the three men at Basheer’s lodge. However, it is likely that other victims had been abused there as well. “We permanently shut down the building, which was constructed without proper documents, soon after the bust. However, we have reason to believe that other victims were brought to this lodge and abused earlier. We are looking into this as well.”