The fight for basic human rights has been an unending one for many. While we take our freedom for granted, there are people battling themselves every day to earn their freedom and bread, alike. One of the sections of the 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 on hope, until Sunitha Krishnan came to their rescue. A name that has been prominent in social welfare, she has been a savior, and has so far rescued more than 17,000 women from being raped, assaulted or trafficked in the name of business.
Born in Bangalore to Raju Krishnan and Nalini Krishnan in a Palakkad Malayali family, Krishnan traveled a lot when she was young. Her family was always moving because of the nature of her father’s service. 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, she was raped. The eight men who did this also beat her brutally, leaving her partially deaf in one ear. The reason for subjecting Sunitha 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 she went through made her resolve stronger, 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 of thousands she is nurturing, and providing a better life.
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 subjugate her voice.
Built on five principles – Prevention, Protection, Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration, Prajwala provides the victims 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 is another aspect Prajwala has been involved in, and has been raising voice for.
An exemplary feat that Sunitha Krishnan achieved with Prajwala was the PIL (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, rapes, survival stories and more. The filmmaker has been putting her talent to shed light on what lies hidden in small, stinking 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 Sunitha Krishnan in a recent interview to The Logical Indian.
The ability to thank people who have helped the social worker achieve her goals, makes her stand out. Recalling the efforts of all, she has, in the last 22 years, created a community that not only cares, but wants to be proactive in bringing change.
Social reintegration, as Krishnan calls it, could only be achieved if the society was 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 honored 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 justice home for women who have even stopped thinking about it. Prajwala has been making an impact deep enough and the change is clearly visible. However, this is just the beginning.