Kolkata: Young Muslim girls from West Bengal are being sold to men looking for brides in Haryana for as little as Rs50,000 to Rs100,000 (Dh2,814 to Dh5,628), officials said late on Tuesday.

Recently, Delhi Police’s Crime Branch has arrested five people, including two women, on charges of human trafficking as they were taking 20 young girls to Haryana, a state known for its skewed sex ratio.

As per the 2011 census, the number of women in Haryana was 879 women per 1,000 men, which is much below the national average of 943.

According to police, the girls belong to poor Muslim families who have entered India illegally from Bangladesh. They are befriended by these gangs and are sedated before being taken to Delhi where they are sold. “Five people altogether had been arrested, of which Syed Ali, alias Raju, is the kingpin who operates this group. We have alerted the state police, and the hunt is on for other members of the group,” R S Yadav, Joint Commissioner of Police Delhi, said.

During interrogation, Raju confessed and said that the gang would change the names of the victims, mostly Muslim women, and give them Hindu names before they were sold. “There is demand for Hindu girls, hence, they changed they names through a legal process and the same was shown to the prospective buyers. They even got the marriage registered,” said a senior police officer.

Raju confessed that they often paid money to the parents. “They [the parents] often staged the abduction while the girl’s parents were actually selling them for a sum of Rs10,000,” the officer added.

The gang was busted when a 24-year-old woman, who was allegedly sold for Rs80,000, escaped and approached a nongovernment organisation in Delhi. “The woman informed that her 17-year-old cousin, too, was brought to Delhi with her and then sold. Both of them were allegedly abducted from near the railway station in Uttar Dinajpur district in West Bengal, where they had gone to buy medicines from a store,” Yadav said.

Post the first arrest, West Bengal police has been conducting raids in various areas of the district to bust similar gangs. “Trafficking of girls has become a major law and order situation as they are not only trafficked within the country but [also] are often sold to foreign countries where they work as maids. The change of name is not new as religious bias still exists all over the world,” said an officer from the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the West Bengal police crime branch.

Organisations working in the field say that unplanned pregnancy, maltreatment of the girl child, extreme poverty and lack of employment are the key reasons why parents are sell their children. “Often children are the only worldly possession the parents have and stark poverty pushes them to sell their girl child for as low as Rs500,” said Runa Sen, who runs a charitable organisation near the India-Bangladesh border.