Monday, May 27, 2019

IN SOLIDARITY WITH #MeToo, BUT WHAT ABOUT MY LIFE?

(This is by Rajesh Touchriver in response to the #MeToo allegations which I had blogged on 22-10-2018, posting it here as I think this response should also be known)

It is around 8 months now that a newcomer actor alleged that I have mentally harassed her, discriminated her based on gender, passed sexist remarks and blackmailed her. She also alleges that I sent her an inappropriate message ‘ready to dance’ at midnight. In these last 8 months, she has alleged another short film director of patriarchal bias…and now she accuses a senior actor in Malayalam industry of inappropriate behavior that happened in 2016.  

For the better part of the last eight months I was shooting and thereafter busy with post-production work, so I did not have time or energy to respond to these allegations. And then I also waited to see whether the person is making any complaint to a legally competent body so that I can present my facts there. In the absence of any formal complaint, I am confused, how am I supposed to clear my name. Now with these new set of allegations against a senior actor and my name being repeated a hundred times over, maybe as a troll but still my name; I am left with a situation where allegations are pasted in public memory (for short term or long term the time will tell) again & again. Finally I have to break my silence!

I am making a conscious choice of not mentioning the name of the person for the simple reason that I have no axe to grind with this person. And my present statement is just a statement of facts based on the behavior of the person on my sets and should not be taken in any way to point out at the character of the person.

I have known this newcomer by telephone contact from 2016 as she was referred by a common associate in the industry. Although she kept in touch requesting for a break I could not accommodate her as she was not suitable for any of the characters for the Telugu film I was making at the time. In 2018, for my new bi-lingual film there was character of a female police officer that suited the look of this person. I invited her for an audition to Bhubneshwar. She came to Bhubneshwar with her mother. On the completion of audition when she was selected, I was told by this person that she had taken a lot of debt to reach for the audition and cannot go back . Since many of the cast & crew were already in Odisha, I requested the Producer of the film to provide her accommodation so that she can be part of the rehearsals. This is her first feature film.

When the shoot started everything was fine, this person due to language problem was mostly around my technicians and makeup persons who were from Kerala. There was easy comradeship, jokes and light banter on the sets in an otherwise very stressful shooting schedule.
The stress triggered due to multiple reasons but one of the many was the limited dates the lead actor could give for this film. All efforts were being made to complete his scenes. Since we were working on tight budgets all supporting actors were asked to reach the location in the morning itself and as per the situation the combination scenes were completed. This is when the problem started with this person, she started throwing tantrums on the sets, abusing the Managers that she was being made to wait for her scenes and why couldn’t she come to the sets when her scenes would start. When complaints started pouring in from others about her behavior, a senior actor even counseled her and advised her to understand the shooting conditions and pressures involved as she is just starting her career in the industry. 

When finally, the scenes where this person has to perform started, I was faced with a bigger crises, this person did not like any feedback or correction.
I live & breathe cinema and I was in no way going to compromise on the performances. But this person would start crying in front of all the crew and stage walkouts from the set. Out of sheer frustration, I started sending her messages on ‘whatsapp’ my feedback about her performance and what needs to be done to correct it.  My messages both appreciated her good performances and criticized her bad performance (screenshots of all the messages available).
As the shooting schedule was rigorous, due to our race against time to complete the scenes of the lead actor, most often than not we would come back to our rooms only after midnight.
As I was and I am still looking at all this as a professional challenge while working with newcomers, I did not have any personal grouse then (or now) against this person, so light banter on commonly joked matters on the set continued even on whatsapp, which is the famous ‘ready to dance’ midnight message.
In the meantime I was also faced with updates from my team who complained that this person was picking fights with other supporting actors. In one such instance there was a big fight over some ice-cream. This lady abused another female actor for some ice-cream which created a big scene on the sets.
Perhaps the worst situation, I had to face was while shooting a fight scene at the beach. This person was enacting a police officer in this film and had to do a fight scene with several other actors on the beach. During the course of the shoot, watching the monitor I noticed that she was completely drenched and her upper portion of her body could be visibly seen through the drenched Tee Shirt. I asked my assistants to go and inform her to dry up and re-shoot. All my assistants refused, as by this time most of the cast & crew were not even willing to go near her. Somehow I sent an assistant with a towel to her. And I had to personally go to her and ask her to dry up and change her inners.
She immediately flared up and started accusing me that I was making comments on her body.  That was it, I lost it and give her a mouthful that this is not an ‘item number or a piece film’ for people’s bodies to be flaunted, the role is that of a police officer and all decorum for the same has to be maintained.  Somehow we completed that scene.
As we were coming closer to completion of scenes with this person, I also realized that the Producer had not paid the promised remuneration. I personally intervened and told the Producer to do the needful. Due to several factors the Producer did not immediately respond. The finally showdown came on the last day, during which my wife Sunitha Krishnan was also a witness. This person refused to act, till her payments were not cleared.
As the shot was already ready, I requested the Producer to make part payment and resolve the matter. The Producer made part payment in cash and yet this person would not budge. She demanded that the Producer gave it to her in writing that her payments will be cleared and she will be given flight charges for her return (of course the cost of the flight tickets to be deducted from her payment). As the shooting was delayed for already an hour, the Producer gave it in writing and ensured that the shooting was resumed.

I received a message from this person on her way back to airport thanking me for the support and the opportunity I gave her…little did I realize that after 2 ½ months this person will be accusing me of mental harassment and other charges, for reasons best known to her.

I am forced today to take screenshots of my ‘whatsapp’ messages and keep it safely as supporting document when the time is right to show to the world as I want people who are reading this and following this to know the exact facts and also understand how ‘truth’ can be distorted.

I am not here to defend myself, that is for  you to independently verify the truth. I also do not want to throw aspersions on anybody’s character or their professional outlook. I know as a person, I have a style in functioning, which all my actors are much aware. I cannot sweet-talk to anybody man or woman, some may call it very abrasive and rude. For me once I cast a person in a particular role, that person ceases to be a man or a woman, he/she is just an actor playing that character and I will apply all strategies to ensure that the person does justice to that character. I have witnessed tantrums from many actors and technicians on my sets and I take it in my stride as an occupational hazard.

My love for cinema is absolute…and I will continue with the same passion and commitment and in the same style albeit some modifications in my casting methods…maybe a relook on my position whether I want to take further risks providing opportunity to newcomer actors and definitely of course have code of conduct and safe-guarding procedures in all the agreements.   

And as a post-script I also want to state, my liking or not liking a person does not come in the way of my films and all cast & crew are promoted to the best of my ability.

Finally I want to take this moment to thank my wife, my family and all my friends including my actors, assistants and technicians for their unstinting love and faith in me…if not for that…this phase could have been very stressful.  




Rajesh Touchriver

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

DO WE NEED SHELTER HOMES FOR VICTIMS OF SEX TRAFFICKING?


The last few months has seen lot of adverse reports on the conditions of shelter homes across the country. At about the same time during this period lobbying and advocacy for the comprehensive Anti Human Trafficking Bill reached its peak after being passed in the Loksabha (lower house of the Indian parliament)  and the opponents of the Bill spoke vehemently against the ‘shelter home/ protection home’ focus of the Bill citing it as protectionist. Interestingly even a few anti trafficking advocates also raised their concerns about shelter homes as ‘incarceration’ and recommended community based rehabilitation models.
It is in this context that one is raising this question ‘do we need shelter homes for victims of sex trafficking’?
To respond to this question we need to understand, who is a sex trafficked victim? What are the damages that she has been subjected to in the process of being trafficked? What are her needs? Does she play a role in tackling the organized crime of human trafficking?

Let us be very clear at the outset itself, when we are speaking about a sex trafficked victim we are not confusing her with a person who has willingly chosen ‘sex work’ as her livelihood choice. Also it is pertinent to mention that the Indian Law does not recognize anything called as “sex work” what it recognizes is ‘prostitution’ which is defined as sexual exploitation or abuse of persons for commercial purpose.
Having said this, in a given situation of commercial sexual exploitation it is very difficult to make out the difference as most sex trafficked victims are indoctrinated by the traffickers to say that they are in that place by their willing choice and that nobody forced/coerced or lured them into this situation. And then you also have a lot of persons who might have come into this due to ‘constrained choices’ and over a period of time normalized the experience of being exploited.   

The victims are brought from different parts of the country on the pretext of love, marriage, job offers or film roles and are then threatened or intimidated to accept sexual exploitation. Once raped by a customer, most victims lose any motivation to get back to their original life. This is largely because of the patriachal gender stereotype of ‘lost honor’ for a rape victim. The victim tends to believe  ‘she has lost the most essential component in her life' and that there is no point to go back as she will be rejected and shunned by her community. The guilt that somewhere she was responsible for her situation is also heavy on her soul. This guilt is further aggravated by the fact that the keepers and beneficiaries of the trade keep reinforcing that they had only helped her when ‘she’ sought support during her times of difficulty.    

Once into the world of prostitution the life of a person is about fulfilling daily targets of entertaining customers by offering her body for sex and ensuring regular revenue for the brokers/pimps/keepers/traffickers. In this bargain she has to adopt all coping mechanisms to survive and sustain which essentially means usage of alcohol or resort to substance abuse. Most victims prefer to be intoxicated while entertaining a customer perhaps for the simple reason to forget the humiliation of indignity to their bodies and souls. The pain of multiple abortions, the humiliation of serving varied sexual needs of the buyers, the constant fear of being identified, the threat of bodily damages and health ailments and the indignity of being treated as ‘just a piece of flesh’ over a period of time gets numbed in the struggle to move on.

What is the impact of all this? If a one-time incident of abuse or sexual assault leaves a lifetime of trauma and nightmare, what could be the impact of daily rape by multiple men for a prolonged period of time, combined with helplessness and hopelessness to exit the exploitative situation by real and perceived fears.

Suffice to say that physical damages of sexually transmitted infections, cervical damages, damages to reproductive tract or the traumatic brain injuries is nothing compared to the deep-rooted psychological damages that such a world of exploitation leaves in a human being. The worst of-course being that the person believes that she is not a ‘victim’ and has normalized the experience of being exploited.

Is it possible therefore to just remove such a person from a place of exploitation and relocate her to a community and expect her to start a new life?

Well for those who do not understand trauma and its impact, they might just say ‘Why not? Provide her some community-based rehabilitation and she can start afresh!  As if none of the above has ever happened and you can just switch on or switch off from a deeply painful experience!

Anybody with a minimum sense of empathy will recognize that there is a need for interim care after a person is removed from the place of exploitation and before she is reintegrated back to the society.

So if an interim care has to be provided what should be the structure of that support?

I would say the Immoral Traffic Persons (Prevention) Act, 1956 was way ahead of its time. It recognized among other things that such victims would require specialized care and support in the form of ‘Protective Homes’, very clearly stating that the person is a ‘victim’ and not a ‘criminal defendant’
I have heard words such as ‘incarceration’ or ‘prison’ being used with reference to Protective Homes or Shelter Homes this to me indicates the person’s absolute lack of understanding of what it is to be living as a criminal defendant in a prison. And what a prison really looks and feels like. (Ask a person like me who had the privilege of living in Bangalore Central Jail for a few weeks as an under-trial!)   
When a person from the word go is accused of a crime not just in perception and attitude but also in black & white on paper, every step one takes within the confinement space is reinforcing that tag. Interaction with any person who has undergone a prison sentence either as an under-trial or a convicted offender will reveal the sense of guilt and shame that is infused into the correctional mechanism. From the living quarters, segregation, clothes, roll call, the way the food is served to the way you are addressed, there is constant reminder that you have committed a crime. Since it is a correctional structure and a person is expected to reflect on the crime they have committed and repent, one cannot really make any judgmental comment
But does the Protective Home/Shelter Home behave like a prison? Well I would say the only common component would be ‘safe custody’. And with that any common connect ends.
While the ‘prison’ reinforces multiple times in all its processes the crime committed and need for repentance, the Protective Home strives hard to make a person understand that she is a victim of grievous crime and she needs all the care and protection to build an enabling environment to start a new life.
It goes without saying, when an acutely traumatized individual who has normalized the process of exploitation enters such a ‘safe space’ she is unable to decipher the ‘rightness’ of such a space. Influenced by her keepers she will put all her efforts to escape this place. Most studies across the world have clearly shown that acute trauma affects the cognitive control of a person seriously retarding the person’s ability to cope with the situation.
Here is a person who is traumatized, is controlled by people who benefit from her body, is threatened/pressurized/indoctrinated to believe that life outside exploitation will be harmful to her, how she is supposed to behave in a safe space when she herself suffers from serious trust deficit?

Any Protective Home or a shelter puts in processes and structures for ‘safe home’ which is away from negative influences, and may look akin to ‘safe custody’ to deal with both external and internal challenges. While the external challenges mostly deal with the keepers/traffickers/pimps/organizers who live on the earnings of sexual exploitation and are hell bent to retrieve the revenue they are losing everyday by somehow getting back the woman rescued to their fold, the entire internal challenge deal with this traumatized person who is currently unable to trust the support that the ‘safe home’ has extended and feels compelled to go back to the familiar world of exploitation.
The perceived threat of the traffickers/keepers/pimps/organizers is ‘real’ as there is not only a revenue loss for all the days that the person is kept in the safe home, but the greater threat is if the person recovers from her trauma and starts healing she might even seek justice for the criminal violation she has been subjected. So for them it is a matter of life and death to get this person back.

There is no way, that a person who has been living in a world of sex slavery and has practically normalized it, can recover from that situation if she is not physically removed from the place of exploitation and kept in a safe place far away from any negative influences. Study any ‘drop in center’ operating in different parts of the world for women in prostitution. Check the rate of recovery in such places. How many women actually take an exit path after coming to a drop in center where you can come and go whenever you please. I would say hardly 1%. Living in exploitation and facing it everyday, does not leave any room for exit. One is sucked deeper and deeper into first being exploited and then exploiting others to survive. 

So for how long should a person be kept away from negative influences? While each person has its unique pace for recovery, in my experience, a period of 1-2 years with all therapeutic processes in place, is a good time for most victims to become survivors.

Does it work?  For most it works, for some it does not. And that some might also include persons who form deep attachments with their exploiters to survive and who suffer from Stockholm’s syndrome. And there are some others, unfortunately who have gone past the point of return…

Shelter Homes/Protective Homes are a vital component in providing a recovery space for any victim of sex trafficking and facilitating a safe journey for their rehabilitation. A big part of the prosecution depends on this person’s recovery to testify in the court of law against the organized crime of human trafficking especially when material evidences are rare and few. Any access to negative influence may completely make the person go hostile in the court. So a world free of Protective Homes/Shelter Homes is a world filled with trafficking with impunity.

There is no doubt that good shelter homes/protective homes are a need of the hour. The effort should be to, not discredit and create a hostile environment for homes to function but to push for better standards of care for safeguarding the rights of the persons it serves.
The everyday challenges of hostility within and outside is good enough for people running shelter homes, without adding more of it with our ignorance. Our focus should be to put in place robust monitoring systems, adequate resources to take care of the complicated needs of such victims, openness to provide viable and sustainable economic options, compassion and empathy to reintegrate the survivors as a matter of right and not as charity.

Somewhere out there if you listen carefully…you can hear the muted pleas of millions of victims of sex trafficking languishing in hell holes…they need a way out…they need a safe way out that will not put them back in the path of harm once again.

               
   


 


             



     

Thursday, December 27, 2018

IF NOT NOW…WHEN?

The nation is resounding with voices for & against the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Protection & Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018. My position on the Bill is well known so I will not take a neutral stand nor will I refute or try to dispel the arguments of those who are opposing the Bill. Their perception of truth is their reality and my perception of truth my reality.

I do not come from an academic background nor am I lawyer, my identity is the body of work that I have build for the last more than two and half decades. In these twenty-five years I have seen the vicious world of human trafficking at very close quarters. Having rescued with the assistance of the police over 20,000 women and children from sex trafficking I have been witness to their lives not as a journalist or an advocate but as a care-provider who was with them from the time they were being removed from the place of exploitation to the time they were taken to the police station, to the hospital, to the court and finally when admitted in my Protective Home and taking care of them for a period of time as specified by the Court or Child Welfare Committee which may range from 5-10 years in cases of children and 1-3yrs in case of adults.  

This essentially means that I have a fair understanding on how the victim behaves when she is rescued and over a period of time after a series of support services are provided how a slow and steady transformation happens in this person. 

In my 25 years of experience I have seen very few persons who willingly got rescued. Most often than not every victim resisted the rescue, she would give false names, will be very aggressive and violent and very often prone to self-harm behavior. Over a period of time with strategic psychosocial interventions and health care, the victim would gain trust in us and thereafter a new sinister world of deception, betrayal, and fraudulent means will open before us. The stories of how they were duped with promises of job, love or film roles or nightmares of how they were coerced by somebody closely known to them so that they can be commercially sexually exploited. This change was never overnight; it took weeks and months of consistent and persistent efforts by our care-providers which will trigger the need in a victim to become a survivor.

In the meantime another drama will open before us, outside the walls of our Protective Homes of those who desperately wanted these women & girls to get back to their fold. In a significant number of instances it would be under the garb of an advocate’/lawyer’ who would be threatening us of illegal detention or giving us lessons in constitution. We would see the same lawyers in the court corridors also representing the accused in similar cases. I have written umpteen times to District Judges and the Bar Association regarding the threats and intimidations we have faced in the hands of these lawyers. In fact if you visit the Nampally Court you will definitely come to know a set of lawyers who only take up these cases. 

It is through these instances that I personally understood that being in flesh trade is not usually a personal choice of a person. It is a well-organized industry and has many stake-holders and an individual trapped in this midst is controlled by many. It may not appear tangibly as an organized set up and pass off as something, which is an individual aberration, but practically it is well networked.  There is a closely guarded information network and the stakes are quite high. Otherwise how then will you explain, when a small group of telugu women supposedly impoverished and marginalized are rescued in Chandrapur, Maharashtra, before they are even shifted from Chandrapur to Hyderabad a whole of set of lawyers have already descended in the concerned court in Hyderabad! 

I have directly faced the opposition from these elements not only in physical attacks but also in other ways such as pressurizing my landowner to get me vacated from premises where the shelters were located. Thanks to these attacks, we have ended up having too many liabilities in the form of assets!!! The attacks continue in multiple forms, some direct some subtle. 
                      
But not all the women and children I have been party to rescue have been rehabilitated. There is a small but significant number who have chosen to go back to the same situation(including a child). Some of them have been re-admitted to my shelter. So I do recognize that there are people who are not willing to be rehabilitated and for reasons best known to them chose to go back to the same situation. But I am not willing to accept that it is by their own ‘choice’ as many would like to portray. For ‘personal choice’ is a liberating emotion and not a defeating expression. I have had umpteen number of such women telling me that ‘her life is over…don’t try to change’. I have seen the pain in those eyes and a sense of resignation to fate. In my lifetime I have also had the unfortunate experience of cremating many such women whose bodies were found on the streets. 

So when I am advocating for ‘‘Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection & Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, I am doing it because I genuinely believe it will bring systemic changes and will ensure victims get their rights due to them. I also believe for too long the State has shied away from taking a bold step to fight the organized criminal mafia that operationalizes the human trafficking networks. For far too many decades the Governments have subtly promoted this crime and allowed millions to perish. I do believe this has finally ended and there is somebody taking the courageous step to stand up for victims. Is it history? Yes I do think so… For centuries what you called as a ‘necessary evil’ today is finally challenged. There is at least one set of voice in this country which refuses to tolerate this dehumanizing trade in human beings.      

So here are the 10 reasons why I think you should support the safe passage of the ‘Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection & Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 in the Rajyasabha (It was already passed in Loksabha in July 2018):
  1.  For the first time the Bill in its operational sense recognizes human trafficking as an organized crime and ensures a specialized Police body ie. National Anti Trafficking Bureau is set up which will be mandated to tackle inter-state and cross-border trafficking of persons. Till date there is no such legal statute, which provides this mechanism. An attempt was made few years back to designate CBI through an executive order, which failed due to lack of funds and political will. With a legal statute there is no way this can fail if the attempt is made
  2. While Sec 370 provides the operational definition of human trafficking many purposes of exploitation was not considered in 2013 (Criminal Law Amendment Act). The Bill ensures that all purposes including forced labor, begging, exploitative surrogacy, cyber-pornography is included and that is why it is comprehensive.
  3. Not only this Bill recognizes that a victim is subjected to inhuman pain & torture which is likely to cause a lot of damage in their minds and body, it puts in place safe spaces (Protective Home & Rehabilitation Home) that allow the healing to happen and mandates ‘rehabilitation’ as a right of the victim. This is perhaps for the first time that rehabilitation becomes such a core component of legal document.The Bill also ensures that foreign nationals trafficked to India are given all support for safe time-bound repatraition.
  4. It also recognizes that there are women in flesh trade who might not be trafficked and who are unwilling to be rehabilitated and provides a provision for voluntary exit through the intervention of a Magistrate.
  5.  The Bill also recognizes that not only the traffickers sometimes even the stakeholders mandated to provide protection are capable of victimizing a victim. Lack of accountability and dereliction of duties is a penal offense as per the Bill.
  6. At one end if the victim’s right to reintegrate is recognized at the other victim’s right for justice is mandated through a series of victim friendly criminal justice procedures including putting in place ‘victim witness protection’, video-conferencing and special courts
  7. The Bill recognizes mere rhetoric does not move anything on the ground and mandates budgetary provisions for rehabilitation, interim relief and compensation.
  8. While emerging trends such as cyber trafficking has not been covered in depth the Bill ensures that it takes into account the ever-expanding scope of human trafficking through cyber space. It puts in place both preemptive and deterrent clauses.
  9.   One of the major aspect that the Bill recognizes is that when a victim is rescued it might appear to be a local problem but it has state and national level implications if probed in the right manner. Hence all implementation mechanism from the local to the national level is put in place as legal statute.
  10. Finally the Bill recognizes that no human being deserves to be trafficked and puts in place a whole set of components targeting vulnerable groups to prevent the crime.              

No doubt there are many who will benefit if this Bill is stalled but there are million more who will benefit if the Bill is passed. While genuine fears can be resolved and addressed sooner or later but the millions of lives endangered can wait no more. 

I am standing before you as the voice of millions who want to be liberated from slavery and seek support from the State to create a safe mechanism to remove them from those dungeons of hell-holes to a world of options and opportunities.

I stand before you on behalf of millions whose human rights have been violated by commercial vested interests and who need justice for closure. 

I stand before you as a human being who is deeply anguished and angry about the growing impunity of criminals who believe even a 3 year old child should not spared.

There is a time in history, when you have to make a choice, on where you stand…this is that moment…If not now, When      


  

Sunday, November 25, 2018

MY RESPONSE TO GUARDIAN


Reference: 'Prison would have been better': Women Cry Foul over celebrated Indian Charity, an article by Joshua Caroll, through a grant from Pultizer Center on Crises Reporting published by 'The Guardian' on 23rd Nov,2018, 07.00 GMT 

At the outset I wish to state that I will be tackling all the unfounded malicious lies stated in the article, in the appropriate court of law. This response is for the million of well-wishers, supporters of the mission and also for those who just read the article and do not know what to make of it.

As this is going to be slightly long, let me summarize the content:
Context & timing of the article
• Legal framework of rescue & rehabilitation
• Prajwala Shelters - A Protective Home
• Legally mandated protocols for a Protective Home
• Media & Protective Home
• Malicious allegations of violence

1. Context in which the article is written
Many anti-trafficking crusaders in India have worked relentlessly this year to advocate for the Trafficking of Persons( Prevention, Protection & Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 which was passed in Lok Sabha ie. the Lower House of the Indian Parliament on 26th July 2018. So they are much aware of the context in which such malicious allegations are being made and the consequence it might have for the advocacy efforts.
This context setting is for all those who are unaware of the prevailing challenges in bringing this much-needed legislation and the pivotal role that Prajwala as an organization and I as an individual have played in advocating for this legislation.      
In 2004, Prajwala filed a Public Interest Litigation(PIL) 56/2004 in the Supreme Court, praying for Victim Protection Protocol in rescue and rehabilitation of sex trafficked victims. In 2015 while disposing the PIL, the Honb’le Court passed an order that a comprehensive legislation to combat trafficking as proposed by Ministry of Women & Child Welfare should be drafted and an Organized Crime Investigating Agency should be established in 6 months. Soon after the Ministry set up an Inter-Ministerial Committee and started the lengthy process of drafting the comprehensive legislation. After a series of drafts, finally in early 2018, a finalized version was brought out, ‘The Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Protection & Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018. After a lot of effort the Bill was passed in Lok Sabha/Lower House on 26th July 2018.  This Bill is proposed to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha/Upper House of the parliament this winter session in December 2018.
The ‘sex workers’ lobby have vehemently opposed this Bill on several grounds including calling it ‘Protectionist’.  It might be also pertinent to mention that a few people claiming to be working on anti-trafficking have also opposed the Bill on some flimsy grounds which in my personal opinion has more political agenda than actual substance.
What is there in this Bill that is worrisome for many? The Bill makes first of all, rehabilitation a right for any rescued trafficked victim. Further it not only provides for a rehabilitation fund but also mandates to set up short term and long term Protection and Rehabilitation Homes respectively. It also for the first time, makes all Protection Homes accountable and makes any victimization or dereliction of duties in Protection Homes a criminal offence.  
Why is the sex workers lobby worried?
They are worried because they fear that all ‘sex workers’ will be picked up and admitted in these homes. It is a needless fear, if one reads the Bill without prejudice, it is crystal clear that it is meant only for trafficked victims and in case there is a voluntary worker, Sec40 allows the person to submit an affidavit to the Magistrate for release.

As the winter session of the parliament comes closer, there is a compelling need for this lobby to discredit the most proclaimed Rehabilitation Model in India which is the Prajwala’s Model.

Hundreds of Judges, Police Officers, Government officials have visited this model and it has become the reason for several states trying to work out a modality to replicate this model.
Government Of Telangana requested Prajwala to co-manage their Government Home located at Kukatpally in order to replicate this model. Several other states are also now looking at replicating this model.
   
2. Legal framework of rescue & rehabilitation/care & protection
Rescue of women & girls in prostitution is done as per Sec 16 of the Immoral Traffic Persons Prevention Act(ITPPA), 1986. It is purely a Police activity.
In recent times, many NGO’s including Prajwala have assisted the Police in rescue work as per the Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines of setting Anti Human Trafficking Units which is located in Crime Investigation Department (CID) which is a specialized unit taking up only sporadic rescues once or twice a year.
The normal local police conduct rescues in brothels and other places of sexual exploitation throughout the month without taking any support of any NGO.
So the dramatic opening remarks of the article itself is a pathetic figment of fertile imagination, it cannot be a rescue done by the police. Imagine doing this kind of thing on a public road in this era of social media when everyone in India has a mobile phone. The Hyderabad City Police will have a tough time if they conduct themselves like this.     
Post rescue, for further care and protection of the victim it is only a Court that can direct a victim to be admitted in a protective Home under Sec 17 of the ITPPA.  
    
3. Prajwala Shelters- A Protective Home
Prajwala Shelters are legally termed as ‘Protective Homes’ which is licensed under Sec 21 of the Immoral Traffic Persons Prevention Act, 1986 (ITPPA).
ITPPA currently is the only legislation that addresses both sex trafficking and prostitution.  As per this law, a person in prostitution when rescued under Sec 16, is then produced before the Magistrate who will pass an order to keep her in a Protective Home. After the statutory enquiry period, if the Magistrate feels that the person requires care and protection then an order is passed for a longer stay in a Protective Home for a period not less than 1 year and not more than 3years.
The license is issued by the Government after a rigorous due diligence and renewed every year. A Committee comprising of the Revenue Divisional Officer, Deputy Commissioner of Police, District Welfare Officer and District Child Protection Officer visit the home, study the standards of care, interact with the residents and then submit their report to the Government based on which the license is renewed.
Prajwala is the first licensed Protective Home in Andhra Pradesh & Telangana and continued to be the only one for many years till recently.  
Prajwala has time and again questioned the Government of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh regarding the number of unlicensed homes under the Ujjwala Scheme and has even filed a Public Interest Litigation in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh & Telangana about the lack of Government run Facility for sex trafficked victims and the poor standards of care in the existing homes.  

4.Legally mandated protocols for a Protective Home
Any victim is admitted or released from a Protective Home only by a ‘Court order’ and in case of a minor victim, by the legally competent body ‘Child Welfare Committee’(CWC). It is only through a Court Order or a CWC order that a parent or family is permitted to meet the victim.
Prajwala is perhaps one of the only organizations, which diligently follows this legally mandated protocol. Hundreds of advocates from Andhra Pradesh & Telangana can testify that.  
Authorized stakeholders regularly visit the Protective Home to prepare victims for court procedures including trial. The victims themselves have to appear before the court for recording their statement, identifying the accused and for the final trial. 
With the approval of the court, Prajwala Protective Home provides telephone access to victims within 24hrs of their being admitted in the home.
Prajwala Protective Home diligently practices all the Minimum Standards of Care as specified by GO MS 16 issued by Government of Telangana & Andhra Pradesh. The Assessment Report by competent authorities for license renewal submitted to the government will testify that.

5. Media & Protective Home
As per Sec 228 A of IPC, Sec 74 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 and Sec 23 (2) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) identity disclosure of any adult or child victims of sex crime or sex trafficking is not permitted.
Prajwala’s Protective Homes are mandated by the law to ensure no victim (child or adult) living in the Protective Home is exposed to the media.
No journalist, local or international has been permitted to enter any of the Protective Homes that Prajwala manages.
On a case to case basis and with mutual respect, a few select journalists have visited the Prajwala Administrative Office and have mostly interacted with me. I reserve the right to chose whom I speak to and definitely the moment I know a person is prejudiced against me, I do not entertain that person.
The survivors released by court orders and now living independently are at liberty to speak to media. Many survivors involved in sensitizing the community on the dangers of sex trafficking are covered by the media during their public programs every month. The third Saturday of every month is observed as Swaraksha Day or  Anti Human Trafficking Day by the Government of Telangana and hundreds of survivors address public gatherings which is always covered by the media.    

6. Malicious unfounded allegations of violence
There are at least 30-40 survivors who are easily accessible directly to any media personnel every month without even my intervention. These survivor leaders (now reintegrated in the society) have made a choice to join the movement to combat sex trafficking and address large public gatherings all over the State of Telangana, every third Saturday of the month. They do not hide their faces or want to be anonymous and speak publicly in front of thousands, about the ordeal they have faced as a victim of sex trafficking.
So why did this journalist ignore all of them and found these seven anonymous women to speak with. Who are these seven anonymous women, where are they now and who is backing them to speak such malicious lies?
It is definitely not a victim, who has recovered and is now a survivor and safely reintegrated to the society. In all probability these are women who might have been admitted in our Protective Home and now who have gone back to prostitution.
Is it rocket science to understand that such women will defend their choices of going back to prostitution by defiling all the care and support provided to them? And if they are back with their pimps and criminal network of prostitution, they will only speak what each pimp/broker or trafficker wishes.
For every trafficker in this country, Prajwala Protective Home is hell for it takes away their revenue, destroys their business and crushes their industry.
Some times in a court you even see a newly rescued girl/woman crying and pleading before the Magistrate to send her to jail (this is at the behest of the traffickers). The reason for such a curious plea is that if you are sent to jail you can get bail and get back to prostitution/flesh trade. What a quick fix solution for the sex traffickers! Ironically the heading of the article also starts with this! 
Now come to the allegations made by two activist. We had three instances (2014, 2016, 2018) which is all duly reported to the Police, where young female traffickers posing as victims have infiltrated into the Protective Home with the one point agenda of creating large scale damage to the Home.
One such instance is quoted in this article where an anonymous professional working on women’s issues and an activist has met 13 women in the jail. These women were arrested on 17-10-2016, after a failed attempt to burn down one of the Protective Home on the night of 16-10-2016.
The case was registered, Cr No 472/2016 under Sections 147,148,307,324,427,342 &120 (B) r/w 149 IPC  by the Pahadi Shareef Police Station. 
While I don’t even want to comment on why this activist or the anonymous professional never sought my clarification or the Government’s till date on this matter. The CCTV footages which is the key evidence in this case, gives you the actual happening of the attack where these 13 women after 9 pm, when most of the other residents had retired for the day, went on to destroy and damage the Home, burnt down chairs and tables, broke laptops, attacked the kitchen and with the oil taken from there, tried to burn down one of the buildings and the gate. All this without any provocation, when my staff were closing down for the day!
It is beyond me currently to explain the deep damages of sex trafficking and sex crime on the body, mind and soul of a victim and what are the holistic efforts that assist a victim in the road to recovery to counter the half-baked comments being made in the article about the self-harm behavior of the victims or the psycho-therapeutic efforts of life-skills and livelihood training.
In due course when these issues will come before the court, I will be submitting all the evidences and also questioning the motive for anybody including an individual, an International Center or a prestigious newspaper to spread such cheap, malicious and vicious lies. What do they gain by defaming the Prajwala Model for Rehabilitation?
   
In Conclusion…
I take pride in saying that the care and protection provided in Prajwala is the best, for we stake our lives to ensure that each child or woman rescued from commercial sexual exploitation is taken care with compassion and empathy, provided all the immediate and long term support required to help them on to the road to recovery within the framework of the law.
Hundreds of my child survivors are now studying medicine, pharmacy, law, and management.  They study in reputed institutions. Thousands of adult survivors are reintegrated into the society, with viable economic options and a significant percentage of them are married with families of their own. Any human being who has visited any of our Protective Home can directly testify the standards of care we strive to maintain.

While I take this article, published in a reputed international newspaper, as a part of a larger conspiracy to destroy the anti trafficking mission, I wish to reiterate and reaffirm that this cannot deter or distract me or my colleagues from our mission.

It appears that the article attacks the Indian Anti Prostitution Law and the so called ‘Shelter-detention’. If anyone aspires to change a law, the right course of action is to go through the courts or the parliament and not discredit or defame the efforts of law abiding organizations like Prajwala.   

It is definitely shocking and anguishing for me as an individual to know that people/persons/International Institutions/International Papers will stoop to such levels to push their agenda; that grants are given to write a one sided, biased piece and there are also reputed papers to carry this story.

And finally, do you think the Indian and other Governments, State Governments, International Institutions, Funding Agencies, Individual Donors, Awards Committees, Judges, Police Officers, Civil Servants and the millions who support our mission for decades have not done their due diligence and only this journalist who has not even seen my Administrative Office, the seven anonymous women, the anonymous professional and two activist have done their diligence about my Protective Homes!!!

And now I want to see how many of them will carry my response to this story!