Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Am I selfless?
This is a question that has haunted me for years.
When I was a child and when I was taunted by many for my small size...they called me kulla kathiraka (short brinjal), penguin and many other names I now do not recall...it definitely became refined in college...they called me KULZ(shorty), I used to think 'wait till I become something' I will...(not exactly sure what I would teach them or prove to them).
Later in life when I waited for hours on end to meet a District Collector( also the District Magistrate) or was repeatedly humiliated by officials for the work I was doing, I still remember this senior police officer whose orderly ordered me to remove my footwear to enter the office and when I actually met the holy officer he would not even look at my face, the whole appointment lasted 2mins ( I had taken the appointment 1 week in advance)...in those times my chaotic mind churned with such negativity would respond...wait till I become the prime minister of India (of course in these cases I knew 100% what I will do...transfer the officer to the dark dungeon corners of the world!!!) or when I have to walk in a crowd and I am scared to get crushed...I think wait till I get the Nobel Prize and Oscars( this is my lifelong fantasy...not sure how I will ever reach there...but in my fantasy I even have my speech ready)...and right now when I am crawling on my knees meeting hordes of officers just to get a piece of land to relocate my economic rehabilitation unit(my landlord Mr Baburvahan Reddy wants us to vacate immediately, none of my pleas appealing for support for our work has any effect on him...last year he did that about our shelters and we were forced to buy land 60 km outside Hyderabad and start construction...in two months time we will shift the shelters...he on the other hand is doubling the rent even for temporary respite... I am not sure why I do not meet any of those generous philanthropist who donate their land for good causes) and each one of the officers I meet tell me how it is not possible to get a land in and around Hyderabad...and I am still going offices to offices hoping a miracle will happen and I may get 2 acres of land in Hyderabad or close to it... and then I read in the newspaper that all the corporates and industries in the world are being given land in and around Hyderabad with overwhelming generosity by the Government of Andhra Pradesh...I grind my teeth and I think....wait till I...
Is this not craving for power, position and fame? Why do I till date continue to have such thoughts...especially when the world is hostile...not supportive...creating obstacles in everything I do... am I truly working on my mission without expecting any gains. Just because I do not crave for any monetary gains( I have never taken a salary) does that necessarily mean I do not crave for other things like fame and recognition. What do I want?
I know my churning will continue...the only thing I am sure as of today is my cravings are stronger and deeper especially when I am in deep crises...with hostility at every end...provoking me...questioning my mission...making me feel voiceless for my children...my girls...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

One Year After TED

Cannot imagine that one year has gone by, last year during the same time I was attending the TED conference. A conference I went with heavy heart and came back as a elated soul. I remember my first day at TED I was overwhelmed and intimidated. Among all these innovators,scientists, entrepreneurs,performers where do I stand as a activist. I have neither humor to make people laugh nor innovation that can make people look at me with awe. My first evening reception was a disaster to say the least. Within me I felt so insignificant in a world of creativity and power.
And then my world changed after I spoke, I felt so much loved and cherished. The next two days were bliss and it was as if the Gods were conspiring to make me feel included,cherished and honored. Years of pain and exclusion just washed away. Support poured in, miracles happened. Problems which were gnawing me suddenly became easily manageable.Issues like eviction became less threatening as support poured in for construction. Google donated 1 million dollars for the construction( it reduced my struggles by 80%).
I became techno literate( started my blog, facebook etc...). Post TED my world did change for good...today support networks are more,there are people interested to know about our trails and tribulations and most importantly the silence around the cause of sex trafficking is systematically breaking. There are at least 6 facebook communities( the ones I know) who are talking on sex trafficking.
But this year has also been a year of challenges. Challenges that threatened the very root of the organization. You cannot have it all....
-For many years the organization has been seriously looking for an ideal person to lead the Economic Rehabilitation Program(ERP). The look out was for a person with sound business ideas and also sensitivity to understand the special needs of trafficked survivors. This ambitious expectation, took as to many fora to identify the right person. Efforts were also put in through newspaper advertisements etc. A lot of money was spent in this search. After two years of search a ray of hope was seen when miraculously we found two persons( a dear friend put our requirement on Dev Net and that started the ball rolling), one with a management expertise and the other with marketing skills. The expert in management was made the Coordinator of ERP.
As the leader of the team I, for once was relieved to hand over a lot of my responsibilities to another person especially related to business and marketing. For more than a month and a half we lived in euphoria as brilliant ideas to promote the business was tossed around and there was generally an air of great happening. Till one day when I met a customer who owed us some payment. As usual when I asked him when he was going to pay up he was shocked and informed me that he had already paid at least a month back. Immediately I called up our accounts section to find out why this customer appeared in the recovery list. And they informed me that the money has never reached them and they were constantly following up with the Coordinator, who had promised them that the money will recovered at the earliest. Immediate probe into the matter revealed that the Coordinator in collaboration with the Marketing Executive had already collected payments in cash at least a month earlier. Due to early detection we were able to prevent large-scale misappropriation of funds. Both the coordinator and marketing executive were dismissed from services and the funds misappropriated were recovered. I was forced to hold additional charges of looking after the enterprise.
-As this crises was happening in ERP, the second generation prevention program which had started an economic rehabilitation unit for prostituted women (who were also mothers of children studying in the transition centers) faced severe resistance from the brothel keepers and brokers/pimps. One of the transition centers was vandalized. Tube lights, fans, flower pots were damaged. Property worth Rs 40,000/ (approx. 900$) was destroyed. A police case was lodged.
-In the shelters, two shocking events happened. The biggest escapade of 10 victims from a ventilator on a rainy day was extremely depressing. As this was the first time such an event had happened in the shelter. The profile of the victims escaped revealed that all were witnesses in different cases. Only three of them did not appear to be connected to any case. One of three abandoned her 6 months baby and ran away. With a heavy heart we had to hand over the child to the court who handed the baby to the Government Orphanage. This happened in the month of September. Through reliable sources we also came to understand that there were traffickers posing as victims in the shelter whose main goal was to make all the victims who were witnesses hostile through intimidation. Unfortunately we could not spot the traffickers(we have a over crowded shelter right now). But what we were able to do was to strengthen the security measures internally. Slowly all loopholes were plugged. Maybe it was the realization of futility of efforts that the traffickers felt frustrated which forced them to go on a rampage within the shelter. TV, Fridge, tube-lights, sound system, CD Player, tables & chairs were destroyed. Three staff and three resident victims were injured in this act of aggression. Utter chaos prevailed for more than an hour, until staff from all units rushed and controlled the situation. The silver lining, we were able to spot all the 10 infiltrators. They were handed over to the police. The damage other than property( 2 lacs , approx. 4250 $) was the morale of the staff which heavily came down. Three senior staff from other interventions who witnessed the episode resigned. Interestingly those who were hurt have become more committed to the cause. Now there is acute staff shortage in the organization and my own movements (travelling outside Hyderabad) has been cut down considerably as only physical presence is boosting the morale of my team.
-During the same period the security of the head office was put under tremendous risk when the organization got involved in two high profile cases in September. One case in which an inspector of police raped a 14 yr old girl. I was personally involved in not only booking the case but also providing safe shelter to the child victim. Consequently there was constant drama in the office premises with media having a hay day. In another case three girls were rescued from a reputed spa which was a front for prostitution. In the second case the office was filled with claimants & lawyers demanding access to the victims. Threatening and intimidating calls from very powerful people also poured in.
-Outside Hyderabad, at the construction end, where we are building our new shelters it was a shocking news when the newspaper reported that the cost of the construction material has increased by 200%. As per the new prices we need another 400,000$ to complete the construction. In a context when we have to vacate the existing rented premises by Dec 31st 2010 it is a huge challenge to raise this this kind of funds in just two months.
-And finally the king of all crises, last year we faced trouble with an official working in the income tax department after we refused to give her bribe. The lady in question a Jt. Commisioner of income tax promptly passed an order that we are a commercial profit-making institution and that we had to immediately pay tax to the tune of 45lacs (approx. 100000 $) to the department. We fought the case and we won and I thought it was over for good. Short lived was my relief as the department has now challenged the order in the tribunal( highest court for the income tax cases).
And my saga continues... a year after TED what do I feel?
Miracles give you renewed energy but life goes on and bigger battles await you at every corner.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The pain of betrayal...

Not sure if I should I write at all...there is a deep pain in me but more than that a fear of being misunderstood.
For the past 15 days I have been plagued with threatening and obscene calls. Things went bad to worst when I realized that this person was also stalking me as he would comment on my exact location every time he called. All the calls were made from coin boxes. That was it, I decided things had gone too far,unlike so many other threatening calls that I get everyday which I happily ignore mostly because I can empathize with their frustrations and sometimes also because I sense the grudging respect they have for my work, but this was point blank derogatory and had nothing to do with my work but something to do with my person.

I lodged a police complaint. As my life is under constant threat the police took the complaint very seriously. A manhunt in earnest began.The situation was challenging as all the calls made were from different telephone booths that too from coin boxes. Finally they identified the person and the house he was living but were not able to nab him as the house was locked for 10days. Apparently this character hails from Guntur he already has a wife and two kids whom he has left and is now living with a woman in Hyderabad.

Then one evening my colleague who manages my shelter program was reporting to me about a girl whom we had rescued 7 yrs back and was in advance stages of AIDS and had been just discharged from the care and support center where I had admitted her 10 days back. This girl came to me in advance stages of HIV more or less as a discarded being in of our rescues 7yrs back. We had taken care of her, restored her life and ensured that she was gainfully employed. After staying in my shelter for 3 yrs she had rented a room outside and was working in my organization. We also knew that she had a boyfriend. 10days back when we came to know that she was very sick I had insisted that she should be hospitalized.
As we were talking I get another call on my other phone that this girl's boyfriend has been arrested by the police. I cautioned my staff who called me not get involved till we are not fully aware of the facts of the matter.
In half an hour's time the police called me and reported that my stalker has been arrested and it turns out to be this girl's boyfriend. I was shocked to say the least but imagine my pain when I came to know that the girl was equally involved in this whole endeavor.
I am not able to still understand the motive behind all this...I think the girl is acting under the spell of stockholm's syndrome...
She was a paid a decent salary(Rs 6,000), her health needs were taken care...what more was expected of me?
I do not want the world to think that all victims behave like this...and that is why I am scared to share. Lest people form further judgements about these victims.
But I still have not come in terms with the pain I am going through...only one question haunts me why?
The man is in the jail...I ensured that the girl still has her job( she is sick and needs support). My team does not feel good about my so called 'forgiving attitude'.But I cannot forget that she is dying...

Monday, August 9, 2010


Last week I was talking to a friend on how we Indians are more comfortable donating to temples than to real issues and causes. Every time we go around "begging" for financial support we have to answer a million questions regarding whether it will reach the beneficiary or not...how it will be spent...can they actually see the results? All questions justified and I personally feel we are accountable and responsible for every pie we collect and we should jolly well make sure that it benefits the right person.

But what bugs me is the fact that the same persons will close their eyes(practically) and donate huge amounts of money ( sometime billions) in a temple or a church or a mosque's 'hundi'( the money collection box). Do they ever ask whether God will receive it or not (it is meant to be given to him/her right)? Why would somebody who is already owning the world...creating it...protecting it and is supposed to be showering prosperity to everybody need any further donation. In fact he/she is supposed to be so wealthy that he/she can look after billions living on the earth.

Why do we think a million times over to support or help a fellow human being...analyzing how deserving...how much tax exemption...and most importantly should I at all? And all those analyses just vanishes into thin air if Gods & Goddess come into picture.
Lets keep monetary contributions aside. Lets look at voluntary work. Why don't we allow our 10 or 12 yr old child to do voluntary work for a cause...(but all of ensure our children our God fearing and drag them to all temples...mosques...churches)
Why is it that in most Indian civil society organizations we find more foreign volunteers(sometimes even NRI's) but hardly any Indians living in India? In fact in my own organization I get at least 150 requests a month to work as volunteers out which 145 will be foreigners and hardly 5 Indians.

Today in the old city of Hyderabad everybody is celebrating "Bonalu"...a festival of the Mother Goddess...
I see millions of rupees being spent for pujas(prayers in temples)...to take huge processions on the road...the band...the music...the fireworks...the fanfare.
I also see the hungry & starving children...the illiterate population...the community living below poverty line...the shack holes in unhygienic slums...the pathetic potholes on the roads...the pain of broken souls...COULDN'T THEY SPEND THE MILLIONS HERE?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Feature Film on Sex Trafficking

Finally after using many tools to sensitize the communities, I feel the compelling urge to make a feature film on sex trafficking. Is it too ambitious? Still my conviction to make one is not changing. This urge is not new...in fact it is more than a year old. Some real life instances became the triggering point...Rajesh my husband gave it a shape in the form of a powerful story & a screenplay which is targeted at a mass audience. I am definitely sure I want to make a film that touches the masses and gains critical acclaim. And so Durga was born. So why am I blogging?
Largely to seek your support.
What we have?
-A powerful script
-A sensitive internationally acclaimed director willing to work freely
-A sensitized credible technical team willing to work freely
-A potential for making the film tax free in Andhra Pradesh
-And a minimal working capital

What we need?
- To raise Rupees 1 crore ( need not be a single investor or better still a donor, even if a 100 persons join and make it happen it will be great.
-To search and identify talented fresh faces( to play the lead and other characters) who should at least speak telugu.
-To get houses, hotels,farm houses, resorts as locations free of cost.
- To find media partners for promotion
-To find a good distributer

What we want to achieve?
-Target a large audience to sensitize on the issue of sex trafficking
-Ensure commercial viability to support our work.
-Shake all existing trafficking networks in AP by way of presentation of reality.

Now I am seeking support...hopefully one of you will respond.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Insecurities and fears of an activist

It has been a long time since I blogged. I am not going to give excuses of work pressure or other crises which is a day today package for all of us who are fighting similar battles. It is simply a case of emotional crash. It all started with somebody stealing 4500$ from my handbag. This is the money I have been saving for the last 18years from my various international tours. Whenever we are invited for an International seminar or a conference we are paid a per diem for our stay. Being a full time volunteer in Prajwala I do not a draw a salary. Before my marriage it was imperative that I do some kind of consultancy work outside the organization to sustain my living, so these per diem become a source of income for my sustenance.Most often I would skip meals to save this money.And being a finicky Indian vegetarian helped, as my options were any way limited and so a lot of money was saved foregoing meals. After marriage of course saving for sustenance became a lower priority and buying a gift for my husband a compelling need.
For some reason I have always resisted converting this amount into Indian currency. Maybe because we as activist do not get a credit card. So for some unknown reason it made a lot of sense to carry all these dollars in the hand bag just as a security in cases of emergency.And the few times I was able to exercise this option,I was more than ever convinced that my handbag is a better place than a bank or a locker. For years it was safe and one day it was all stolen and I realized it just 15 minutes before I left for the airport to attend a conference in Geneva.
Something within me crashed. I had a hollow feeling in my stomach(it has still not gone). For years I used to tell Raj, my husband that this amount is my back-up for all the surgeries I have to have, for my care if I am bedridden and of course for my funeral. And suddenly it was all gone without a trace. And absolutely no clue about who or when?
For the first time I pondered whether it was a wise decision to work as a full time volunteer, not having either a regular income or savings. What happens to people like us when we are sick or bedridden and need financial support. Should I then seek charitable support? Of course I have done it in the past whenever I was beaten I received free medical treatment by altruistic doctors. Maybe it is my mid-life crises that I have become very insecure and the fear of being penniless on the road suddenly is a scary option. For the first time I wondered what will happen to me if my marriage did not work out...and I realized under the grab of a courageous activist lies a very insecure person who craves for all the securities/safety that other people toil hard to create.
And here I thought I was different...and sometimes when people called me a saint( sometimes I nearly believed it)...what a sham!
Today I know for sure that I am no different from others, I also crave for securities/safety, maybe my need is not strong enough to make that as my first priority but definitely it is strong enough to shake my insides once in a while...
As I muse on my insecurities...life goes on...rescues continue...and thankfully throughout this ordeal even for a single moment I have not regretted my choice to fight sex trafficking as my life mission.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Curious Case of American Health Care System

Well for the last one week I am in United States of America, traveling from Washington DC to Newyork. This happened when I was in DC. On the first day of the conference I was mighty thrilled during the registration when they gave us a medical insurance card for 4 days and I casually commented to a fellow participant 'wow this is a good motivation to fall sick'.
Little did I realize God the almighty has tuned all his/her ears only to my pleas. My first encounter with the American Health System was quick enough when a fellow participant an Indian Judge had watering in her eyes which later turned into blurred vision in one of the eye. Armed with our medical insurance card we rushed to the minute clinic of a CVS pharmacy. The doctor there was very sweet and kind... put a of lot eyes drops,checked the eye inside out with all possible devices and than gallantly declared that he cannot treat it and we need to go to a eye specialist.So we humbly asked is there anything that we could do in the meantime.
And lo and behold the doctor opens his book and also the Google search engine...searches desperately for temporary solutions and then finally reads out that we may try hot compress on the eyes.
In the 20 minutes we spend with him, 10 mins was for documentation( which he said he has to complete), 6 mins to read from his books and 4 mins for the eyes. And after all that he says the insurance does't work. The Honb'le judge paid 62$ just to be told she has to go to a eye specialist !
12 hours later I developed severe pain on my knees...I just could not lift my knee...panic set in when I could not walk even after taking 2 pain killers. Well the wonderful organizers were worried and they rushed me and also the judge to the emergency care in a big hospital nearby. There again I was treated with some amount of compassion when a male nurse took my vitals etc...wrote on several papers my history etc. And after half an hour of waiting they took to the ward. In the ward they promptly put a identification mark on my wrist and then they left promising that the doctor will come soon to check.
Litlle did I know here in America "in a moment" could mean anything from 5mins to 2hrs. I waited and waited for some wonderful doctor to come. In the meantime I see a lot of doctors and nurses seemingly busy running around...not sure where( there were not too many patients anyway)
Finally losing patience after 2hrs I called a nurse and asked her when a doctor will come and check me. She in a very important tone told me that they had many other 'sick' people and they will attend to me only after some of those priorities are cleared.
Finally a doctor came,checked my kneed from all angles gave me some very serious looks and told me that there is a need to take an X ray under a scan as he suspects a blood clot. Since I did not look very impressed he continued and said this is a dangerous situation as the clot may got to my heart( Oh my gosh I may have hear attack) and then he said he will be back 'in a moment'
Again the moment streched to an half an hour...now I had lost any interest in getting my knees better I rather had an heart attack than while away my time in a Amercian Hospital.
I called for the doctor and I told him I want to leave...he was very upset and wrote in his notes that if I had a chest pain or breathlessness I should rush back to the emergency care...I was now just desperate to leave...I came out of the ward and who do I see still sitting in the reception 'the Indian Judge'.Even after 3 and a half hours they did not think her eye problem was a priority!
What did I learn? Never fall sick in USA,and if by bad luck you fall sick make sure you have a insurance that works otherwise you will pay through your nose just for a thoroughly useless check up. I wonder the fate of millions of migrants in America who do not have health insurance.
And finally I will never ever complain about Indian Hospitals not even a Indian Government Hospital...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

When Protectors turn Predators...

Amina is a 12yr old special child. She came to me as a 10yr old... gang raped and mute. The police just dumped her with us for safe care,as no case could be booked. The child was hardly in a position to point out who had barbarically torn her!
For two years we nurtured Amina,with all the care..with all the compassion we possessed. We even got two of my staff trained in National Institute of Mental Health(NIMH) to gain skills to take care of special children.

Two years later Amina could speak a lot of words...she would come running to me…hugging me tight not allowing other children to come near me until she had her full.

As Amina grew older we felt quite at a disadvantage as we were less equipped to handle Amina and 7 other kids in the home who were mentally retarded. After a lot of internal discussion all of us in the team felt it would be better for these children if they were admitted in a home for special children, where they would be educated/trained with other special children. I was told many organizations were even specialized in providing occupational therapy which will in the long run make them employable. And hence it was decided to shift Amina and other special children to specialized home …convinced that would give them a better opportunity for mainstream life.

Our search for a good home was filled with challenges and hurdles. The name ‘Prajwala’ became a curse as it meant not just an anti trafficking organization but also a group who took care of a large number of trafficked HIV positive persons. Most reputed homes point blank refused admission on the presumption that Amina could be HIV positive(incidently she is not). We even took the support of Commisioner, Disabled Welfare to pressurize organizations who had Grant in Aid from Government of India to take these children. We were rejected by all. Most homes were willing to get into the bad books of the authorities but not take these children!

A newspaper classified ad that appeared in a leading English daily was the first ray of hope for us. Child Development Mission,an organization willing to take special children had advertised. We rushed to meet the organization. The friendly reception of the staff and the over enthusiasm of the team to welcome us at that time was really heart warming (after all the cold reception this was a welcome respite). But for some unknown reason (maybe it was our paranoid outlook) we decided not to admit all our children in the same place. Only Amina was admitted. Our team members informed the organization that we would be visiting every week to monitor Amina’s welfare which the organization strongly discouraged. We concluded as we had an organizational policy maybe they too had regarding visitors for residents.

In spite of the discouragement our team members went once a month to visit Amina. The first two meetings was uneventful. On the third visit we realized the organization had shifted its home. Panic set in when no neighbors could tell us where the organization had moved out and all phone numbers we had did not work. During this time I was traveling so Deepa my Director,Programs organized a team of senior members to hunt the organization. On a lead she even organized a decoy operation which finally lead us to the main functionary of Child Development Mission. The phone conversation with this gentleman was perhaps one of the most rude conversation we ever had. Only after our team threatened police action that this man mellowed down and gave us a cock and bull story of all children being sent away for Puja holidays and only Amina being housed in a care taker’s house.Such was our anxiety for Amina’s well being that we did not even question him why he had not informed us of the same…or why they had shifted…or what has happened to all phone numbers.In spite of all the persuasion he would not divulge the information where Amina was kept,just went on repeating that we could pick up Amina the next day. That night was the longest night for all my team members.

The next day our people rushed to the designated spot, a small room in a slum. The sight that awaited us was shocking to say the least. A totally unrecognizable Amina…with swollen face, swollen legs, barely able to stand …she was sitting in the room with a old woman who looked like a beggar. We brought back Amina, more shocks awaited us we when thoroughly examined her body. There were marks of bruises, burns all over her body. The greatest helplessness-Amina could not tell us what exactly happened.

Amina is now undergoing treatment for the last one week. We are planning legal action against the organization.
And I as I sit and mull over all these events, filled with untold guilt for the trauma we have caused in Amina’s life, would it have been better if Amina was with me without any real options for mainstream life…(until I am skilled to handle this issue…I don’t know how many more skills I need to master before I can handle it all)…living in a safe place but without any clear future ahead.

But my larger feeling is of anger and outrage.
When people/organizations claiming to be protectors and saviors turn predators doesn’t the world lose faith in the word TRUST.