Six children were rescued as the West Garo Hills police in Meghalaya busted a sex racket operating from a building allegedly owned by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state vice-president Bernard N Marak in Tura on Saturday, a senior police officer said, adding that 73 people arrested from the building.
On the basis of a tip-off about the sex racket being operated from Rimpu Bagan, a farmhouse owned by rebel-turned-politician Marak, a raid was conducted in the building, which was being used as a "brothel", West Garo Hills district's superintendent of police Vivekananda Singh Rathore told HT over phone from Tura.
"We have rescued six minors — four boys and two girls — who were found locked inside dingy cabin-like unhygienic rooms at Rimpu Bagan, run by Bernard N Marak and his accomplices as a brothel, for the purpose of prostitution," Singh said.
Marak, however, denied the allegation and blamed chief minister Conrad for the raid at the farmhouse.
In the raid, 27 vehicles, eight two-wheelers, about 400 bottles of liquor, over 500 unused condoms, and crossbows and arrows were seized, the senior officer said, adding that all the children were handed over to District Child Protection Officer (DCPO) for safe custody and further necessary action as per law.
During the raid at the farmhouse, which has 30 small rooms, 73 people were arrested for their indulgence in "nefarious activities" as evident from the material seized, he said.
Police found many young men and women without clothes and drinking and all 68 of them were arrested, Singh said, adding that the manager, caretaker and three staffers of the property were also arrested.
Singh said the prime accused Marak has been verbally instructed to cooperate with the investigation and immediately surrender before the Shillong Sadar police station. "However, he has not cooperated and is evading arrest till now. The search operation is continuing," he said. "I urge him (Marak) to surrender at the earliest and not make it difficult for himself…We will find him and arrest him."
Police also suspected a girl was sexually assaulted at the farmhouse, and a case was filed in that regard in February. The relatives of the girl traced her to Rimpu Bagan, the senior officer said.
"It was ascertained that the minor was sexually assaulted multiple times over one week, and a case was registered under IPC sections 366A (procuration of minor girl), 376 (punishment for rape) and sections of the POCSO Act," Singh said.
A case was registered under relevant sections of the IPC and the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1956.
Marak, an elected member of the Garo Tribal Autonomous District Council, in a statement attacked chief minister Conrad K Sangma for the raid at the farmhouse, denying any allegation about running a "brothel".
"The CM is getting desperate as he knows he is losing his South Tura seat to the BJP. The raid at my farmhouse is a desperate attempt by him to malign my image and a political vendetta," he claimed.
The BJP is a part of the ruling Meghalaya Democratic Alliance, led by Sangma's NPP.
There are more than 25 criminal cases against Marak, the then self-styled chairman of now disbanded militant outfit Achik National Voluntary Council (B), since the early 2000s, the SP said.