[Photo Credit: Screenshot via YouTube]

Varanasi is considered one of the holiest cities in the world—it is a place where people come to surrender and get rid of their sins. However, this pious city is engulfed with a dark side too.

The new hard-hitting web documentary “Gudiya” (released by “Blush,” Culture Machine’s YouTube channel for women) sheds light on this unholy side of the Varanasi. The 13-minute documentary highlights the sensitive issue of human trafficking and sexual slavery.

The film brilliantly shows the contrast between the divinity of the city and its dark underbelly of prostitution and human trafficking. The film opens with some typical visuals and sounds of Varanasi, sadhus chanting prayers, temple bells, devotees taking the holy dip in the River Ganges, and large flaming lamps, with its narrative of three rescued women in the background. They are recounting their horrifying experiences of being kidnapped either by trusted friends or at gunpoint, drugged, gang-raped and tortured into submission.

Their stories are gut-wrenching but sadly, “normal.”

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2014, the North-Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, which has 16.8 percent of the country’s women population, had registered 38,467 cases, nearly 11.4 percent of total crimes committed against women at an all India level. According to an article on IndiaSpend.org, this translates to one case registered every 15 minutes. UP is followed by West Bengal (38,299 cases) and Rajasthan (31,151 cases).

Varanasi is home to one of the largest red light areas in the country. Situated near the city’s railway station, Shivdaspur area is notorious for its brothels. Several NGOs have set up an outpost in and around these areas to save children and women from getting into the prostitution racket.

Guria Sansthan, the human rights organization, works to rescue and rehabilitate women and under-aged victims of sex trafficking and abuse. Run by activists Ajeet and Manju Singh, they have conducted raids in the red light areas of Varanasi and rescued over 1000 girls. In the documentary, the husband-wife duo exposes how infants are being stolen from the hospital and sold to brothels.

“I see even newborn babies being trafficked from hospitals. And they are grooming up these children through drugs, hormonal injections, and tablets to grow. These people hardly know that they have ever been trafficked,” Ajeet said in the documentary.

The pair also throws light on the nexus between the government, police, and pimps in the flesh trade.

“The brothels were being run by the police stations. Each new girl who came here had to pay entry fees, monthly collection, and (police) even took sex favors,” he added.

When the victim’s family try to file FIR about the abduction, police refuse and instead blame it on the victim.

“The police often discourage victim’s parents to file FIR,” said Manju. “They’ll abuse the poor people by saying, ‘get out! Your girl must have run away with someone.’ Even if the girl is just six years old, she must have run away with someone,” Manju said.

“Some girls that we rescued told us that they had managed to escape from the brothel reached a police station in Varanasi and asked for help. The cops dropped them back to the brothel, and demanded sexual favors,” she added.