In a dramatic illustration of the co-existence of the old and antiquated with the modernity, women held as sex slaves in a remote part of Malaysia have successfully used the short-messaging-services (SMS) to convey their plight to the outside world.
Leading English daily The Star reports, "Gangsters are believed to be holding several foreign women as sex slaves at the giant Bakun dam site, in remote central Sarawak, and the women are crying for help through SMSes to The Star."
Their fear and desperation were also expressed in text messages about a grave the women had found with a crossed-stake planted on it.
The grave served as a chilling reminder that there was no way out but death for those who defied the gangsters.
A non-governmental organisation came to know about their plight and gave the women the telephone number of a reporter.
A woman, who has been sending the messages and making calls to The Star, claimed that the foreign women were being confined and abused for sex services.
The messages were accompanied by appeals for help. Some of the messages read:
» Pls sir help us.
» Not fine, sir.
» We cannot stand here sir.
» My friends very pitiful here.
» Can you come help us sir?
But the newspaper's intervention did not seem to have yielded much results, except for some desultory action by the police.
The Star forwarded the text messages to senior police officers in Bukit Aman for action. Some 2,000 people are working at the 60,000 hectare large Bakun dam, which is about the size of Singapore and is located in the Borneo island.
Interestingly Sarawak Police Commissioner Datuk Talib Jamal confirmed that police had evidence of people bringing women to the project site for sex.
"They bring in the women to 'service' workers in and around the Bakun project site," he said, adding that due to the magnitude of the project, the multi-million dollar Bakun hydroelectric dam had attracted many workers.
He said certain people had set up makeshift entertainment centres there for "entertaining the workers." The women are moved around in four-wheel-drive vehicles from one centre to another.
Labourers involved in timber fields and oil palm plantations within the Kapit Division are also said to be enjoying the sex services.
Gangsters and syndicates are said to be supplying the women, both local and foreign, to the workers at the project site in Belaga district.
"These people are cashing in on the situation. We believe some of these women were brought into the state illegally," Commissioner Talib said.
On Tuesday night, police claimed to have crippled one of the suspected syndicates providing the sex services.
A pimp and 10 women from Indonesia, the Philippines and China were picked up about 189km from Bintulu town, near Bakun.
Asked how the women were brought into Sarawak, Talib said there were two possibilities - via entry points and transported to Bakun to be used as sex slaves, or smuggled in over the porous 1,000km Sarawak-Kalimantan border.
The busting of that single syndicate itself would not mean much - for the reaction of the officials did not seem to reveal much concern for the lot of the women suffering at the hands of gangsters.
"Yeah such things happen, what do we do..." That seems to be the attitude.
In the circumstances there seems to be no early end to the miseries of the sex slaves of Bakun.