Rooting out trafficking
IPS Mahesh Bhagwat, Commissioner of Police, Rachakonda, who has been leading the fight against human trafficking since 2004, was feted for his courage and conviction by the US State Department on June 27 and conferred the 2017 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report Hero award. He was recognised for his vital role in elevating human trafficking as a government priority, and his innovative approach to investigating cases and dismantling trafficking operations. Under his command, Rachakonda police have rescued 490 children from Orissa who were forced into labour and have raided and closed 25 brothels in less than a year.
First anti-trafficking tryst:
It was in 2004, during his posting as DCP Cyberabad, that Bhagwat first raided a resort. “I realised that victims were being brought from Kolkata and Mumbai to Hyderabad and felt that we should do something. While in Nalgonda as SP, we launched a project called Aasara for the rehabilitation of victims, in coordination with other stakeholders. With that project, we were able to control 90 per cent of prostitution. It was recognised internationally in 2006,” he recalls.
Bhagwat joins seven others from around the world, who have been recognised for their efforts despite threats to their lives. Bhagwat says, “Law enforcement officers can do something beyond rescue of victims. For instance, rehabilitation and repatriation in coordination with other stakeholders. Prevention, protection and prosecution are the 3 Ps of anti-trafficking.”
Recalling his days as SP, Women Protection Cell, CID, he says, “During my tenure, the United Nations office on drugs and crime launched a project against human trafficking.” An anti-trafficking unit was opened in Hyderabad under the CID and Bhagwat was made in-charge. “We then started conducting raids in Mumbai and Bengaluru; rescued many victims from brothels and brought them back to our state.”
He also started writing and contributing to journals, including a book published by the UN on trafficking. “My book is on the syllabus for the Certificate Diploma in Trafficking Course at IGNOU.”
In 2009, Bhagwat was promoted as DIG of Eluru range, after which he returned to Hyderabad as a resource person at the National Police Academy, Lal Bahadur Academy and other institutes in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Talking about the award, he says, “This award has brought global recognition to Telangana Police in its fight against trafficking.”
US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, Ambassador-at-Large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Susan Coppedge, and Advisor to the President, Ivanka Trump recognised this year’s TIP Heroes.
“My gratitude to DGP Anurag Sharma, CM garu, HM garu and my Rachakonda commissionerate team for their support,” says Bhagwat.
The previous Indian recipients of the award include Amod Kanth, Kari Siddamma, Kailash Satyarthi, Sunitha Krishnan, Sattaru Umapathi, Swati Chauhan and Bhanuja Sharan Lal.