Survivors Should Not Be Incarcerated In The Name Of Protection

We are extremely angry, disturbed and concerned after reading Joshua Caroll’s report on 23rd November 2018, in the Guardian about forced institutionalization of women and children in a shelter home run by an NGO Prajwala, in Hyderabad. Earlier this year, we had also read about a woman committing suicide in the same shelter home because she was traumatized in the shelter home. This year itself, we also read about how young girls were sexually exploited in shelter homes by those who own and run such places.

We are shocked that under the guise of welfare treatment- victims in shelter homes are reported to be mentally, physically and sexually tortured. It is nothing but the blatant abuse of power of the people who are in charge of such homes.

In Utthan, we are all survivors of sexual trafficking. We have experiences of sexual exploitation and torture; experiences which we cannot forget. We have seen how traffickers and brothel managers conduct their business in secrecy and fear because they know that they might get punished if they are caught. However, some people who run the shelters seem to have little fear for retribution or shame in violating children and women they claim to protect.

How do we trust people who are appointed by the government to provide a safe haven for survivors?

Each of us at Utthan has spent as long as two to three years in different shelter homes in India after we were rescued and in our lives, those years have been a complete waste for us. Neither did the ‘vocational training’ help us later in getting a job, nor did we find the ‘counseling’ helpful in dealing with stigma in our families and communities, nor did the police or courts prosecute the traffickers who are in our villages. They only focus on brothel managers and madams.  Without any fault of ours we are forcibly kept in institutions for protection and rehabilitation- and it feels no less than a prison for us.

Our movements were restricted, we are not allowed to venture out alone, we were not allowed to talk to our families, our conversations with outsiders, like lawyers, visitors, families were under constant surveillance, the content of our conversations were often cross-checked with us and with other inmates, who happened to be in the room or knew the language. We were even punished physically when we refused to eat food that was badly cooked and inedible. This led to frustration and anger in the girls, and who then either took it out on others or themselves through self-mutilation as they were unable to express their rage and grief in any other way. And the never-ending wait to be at home with family continues without any hope, as the home staff never shared any information about the reason for the delay. Ironically, when we are subjected to this treatment, the traffickers roam around freely, making their next plan of which girl to target.

Utthan is strongly against forced institutionalisation of women who are 18 years and above. However, from our experience we know and agree that once a girl is rescued from the brothel, she has to be taken to a temporary safe place, since sometimes the brothel madams/pimps try to contact the victim to threaten her, coerce her and intimidate her to not reveal their names or share with the police or court that she was being exploited. Shelter homes are also necessary for tracing the family of the girls, it is a place where the girls can be on their own after coming out from a traumatic environment. Our fight is not against temporary institutionalization, but against the forced detention of the rescued girls, against the closed door policy in the institutions, against the ill-treatment and torture in the homes.

Keeping this context in mind, Utthan would like to offer some suggestions based on our experiences and learning about how shelter homes could be made safer and better for women and children:

  1. No adult person should be forcibly institutionalised, and kept in shelter homes against their wish in the name of protection. Adults have a right to free mobility and should not be incarcerated for years in the name of protection.
  2. If it is deemed necessary for women and children to temporarily take refuge in a shelter home, we propose that these homes should not be like jails, they should be made more friendly and open.
  3. There should be proper mechanism to monitor these homes, which should be done by external agencies who are neutral.
  4. Surveys should be conducted by outsiders in a periodic manner, with private interviews so that the interviewees can share and open up to them, very similar to the people who interviewed the children and women in shelter homes in Bihar and spoke to them, which helped the girls and women report how they were being exploited.
  5. We in Utthan use a phone app to evaluate the usefulness of services that we receive from Panchayats, social workers and others. If the residents also get an opportunity to rate their social workers or their attendants like that, it can be an indicator of the functioning of the shelter home.
  6. Links need to be established between the Police and social workers at the destination and the source area, to locate the family of the women and children quickly, so that they don’t have to remain in the shelter home for long. We are told that the reason we spend so much time in shelter homes is that the coordination between governments and NGOs between the states takes long.
  7. Families of girls/women who are brought to the shelter home should be immediately contacted to send them home, and only girls/women whose family cannot be traced or whose legal proceedings requires them to stay should be kept in the shelter home.
  8. Utthan envisions a shelter home run by survivors themselves, which would not have closed doors or a prison-like feel.

We, therefore, are in support of the new Trafficking of Persons Bill (Protection, Rehabilitation and Prevention) 2018, since this is the first Bill in India that recognizes the right of a ‘rescued person’, when produced to the court, to reject institutionalisation and rehabilitation among many other salient features of the Bill. This Bill also talks about punishment for dereliction of duty by the person-in-charge of the protection homes or rehabilitation homes, which we think is extremely important. Overall we think this Bill is extremely victim centric and if passed in Rajya Sabha, would benefit many other survivors of human trafficking.

One thing which we think is a positive change is the fact that narratives of violence against women are coming out in the open, be it in shelter homes, office spaces, their own homes etc. We think just like the #MeToo campaign, by talking about this issue and sharing of experiences, we are able to generate more awareness and we think that by supporting the TOP Bill, change is bound to happen.

Similar Posts

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below