The fight for basic human rights has been an unending one for many. While we take our freedom for granted, there are people battling every day to earn their freedom and bread, alike. One of the sections of society that has been worst affected by this are sex workers.
Running in circles trying to find a way out, the women involved in this industry had given up hope, until Sunitha Krishnan took on the challenge to change things. A name that has been prominent in social welfare, she has so far rescued more than 17,000 women from sexual violence, assault and the trafficking business.
Born in Bangalore to Raju and Nalini Krishnan, in a Palakkad Malayali family, Sunitha Krishnan travelled a lot when she was young. Her family was always moving because of the nature of her father’s work. He was employed with the Department of Survey which makes maps for the entire country.
At eight, she started giving dance lessons to children who were mentally challenged, and from there began the revolution she would later go on to bring in the form of Prajwala. In the next four years, her passion took flight, and by the age of twelve, she started running schools for underprivileged children.
Her progress and efforts were slowly making her a name worthy of appreciation, when, at 15, tragedy struck. While working on a neo-literacy campaign for the Dalit community, eight men raped her, and beat her brutally, leaving her partially deaf in one ear. The reason for subjecting Krishnan to this torture was her interference in the supposed ‘man’s world’.
The incident however, did not stop her from achieving what she had always dreamt of. Instead, the trauma strengthened her resolve and served as the starting point of her journey.
Started in 1996, Prajwala is an NGO that has been tirelessly working to end sex-trafficking. Co-founded by Sunitha Krishnan, the NGO, in the last 22 years, has been a ray of hope for sex workers both inside and outside the country.
“When I started, I was left nauseous and shocked by the sight of 15-year-old victims. Today, I am not surprised even when it is a 5-year-old victim,” said Krishnan in an interview to The Logical Indian. A force to be reckoned with, she has become the voice for the thousands she is nurturing and providing a better life to.
Breaking barriers and helping women reclaim a position in the mainstream society, her path has been plagued by problems aplenty. Attacked more than 14 times, people, primarily dalals, have tried to suppress her voice. But still, she persists.
Built on five principles – Prevention, Protection, Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration — Prajwala provides survivours of trafficking with medical, psychological, and legal support. A support system that primarily runs on money from the awards Krishnan gets (or what her husband earns) has so far educated more than 8,000 children. Gender relations, and awareness for the same, is another aspect Prajwala has been involved in.
An exemplary feat that Krishnan achieved with Prajwala was the Public Interest Litigation (56/2004) filed in 2004. It led to the formation of comprehensive anti-trafficking guidelines for the entire nation, as ruled by the Supreme Court of India in 2015.
A keen observer and storyteller, she is also known for films that depict the realities of human trafficking, rehabilitation after rescue, the issue of rape, survival stories, and more. The filmmaker has been putting her talent to shed light on what lies hidden in small, dingy dungeons.
“We need diverse partners to come together and conspire together to achieve goals. If on the ground we are doing a lot of rescue, it is because of proactive policing; if we are securing more convictions, the credit also goes to the judiciary and the prosecution; if there are fewer and fewer victims and more reintegration, it is also because the Women and Child Welfare Ministry. Prajwala is a facilitating body that ensures that all these stakeholders can achieve common goals through efficient means,” mentioned Krishnan.
The ability to thank people who have helped the social worker achieve her goals makes her stand out. Recalling the efforts of others, she has, in the last 22 years, created a community that not only cares about, but wants to be proactive in, bringing change.
Social reintegration, as Krishnan calls it, can only be achieved if society is involved, and her efforts are doing just that. Along with the government and citizens’ groups, she has brought to life rehabilitation services and conjured up a space connecting the two worlds. She has been honoured with numerous accolades and awards, including the fourth highest civilian honor, the Padma Shree, in 2016.
If there is one thing that has kept her going, it is Sunitha Krishnan’s determination to bring home justice to women who have given up thinking about it. Prajwala has been making a deep enough impact and the change is clearly visible. However, this is just the beginning.