Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Swedish experience...

It was always a dream of mine to visit Sweden. Many reasons of course, a minor one being a nobel prize (not yet sure in which category, when in middle school it was maths, in high school chemistry…in college environment…now it is between peace and literature!!!). Well fantasy apart the anti demand legislation was my greatest attraction. The Swedish model to address sex buyers is one of its own kind in the world and I wanted to understand it firsthand. So when Bonnier Media University invited me for GRID 2011, I was on top of the world. Finally I was going to Stockholm.
For those of you who have never heard of GRID, this is an annual meet for a selected group of Bonnier employees worldwide. The conference brings also handpicked speakers from diverse fields to make a TED like (18mins) presentation. This time I was one of the 12 speakers.
Sweden is a beautiful place and for the most unknown reason I instantly felt very comfortable( there are many countries I feel not so very comfortable too).
But the greatest highlight of my visit was to meet senior police officers to understand the anti demand legislation. Meeting officer Kajza and Officer Simon was an eye opener of a different kind. In Sweden the legislation has criminalized buying sex. Any man or woman who buys sex is arrested and prosecuted. The officers are trained for intensive surveillance. It becomes very important to catch the buyer in the act itself so that the officer can be a witness also in the court and there is no scope for acquittal.
In Sweden there is prostitution and sex trafficking. Most girls trafficked to Sweden are from Baltic countries. In most sex trafficking cases the victim girls are also witnesses and are provided safe shelter through the Social Service Department. What is incredible is that in a year’s time the cases are completed. The compensation is a sizeable amount and ensures that victim can be reintegrated back to society comfortably. The prostitution cases of course has mostly the officers as the witness.
The specialized prostitution unit has dedicated officers who have extraordinary commitment. It was very interesting to note that Officers worked with a lot of autonomy and freedom. Once appointed in a particular unit there was absolutely no transfer until the officer himself or herself does not request for it.No officer was transferred for taking up controversial cases. In fact a minister and prominent business-man were also arrested. In India this would have definitely ended with the officer transferred to some remote area…Timbuctoo etc!
What struck me is the political and public will to address the problem. In ten years since the legislation has come into existence street prostitution has reduced by 70% and sex trafficking by 50%. It was very impressive.
Of course I had a lot of concerns. What happens to the women/girls after the buyers are arrested? I strongly felt just addressing the demand is an incomplete solution. Providing support to women/girls for a safe exit from prostitution as a supply-focused intervention was as important as addressing demand. Maybe in the form of protection services and economic opportunities.
For all of we know the woman/girl may shift to Belgium or Germany to prostitute as she does not find buyers here. If just addressing demand can get such great results just imagine if both ends are addressed what a fool proof impact it will have.
It was truly an enriching experience to learn this model. I wonder how much we can replicate this in India with all the vested interests and poor political will.
The rest of the trip was filled with meeting some very beautiful people. I am not sure how much I gave in GRID but I definitely know that I gained a lot. Renewed energy…better focus and some new direction…

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


“That man put his thing from where urine comes into my mouth…when I vomited he slapped me and then he pushed it from my back…and then I started bleeding…in pain when I started crying he tied me with a electric wire and banged my head…and then I got scared that he will put that thing again in my mouth and kill me…so I did not cry out loudly…”
These were the words of a 7yr old sex trafficked victim whom I met in Kerala. I listened to this with pain and dread. For some unknown reason the child had developed a fancy for me and was disclosing to me everything in her baby voice which till date she has not even told the police.
I met many other children all below the age of 14yrs trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and rescued. What was common in all their stories was a father who raped at the age of 4yrs or a brother who molested or an uncle who forced to have oral sex. Incest and dysfunctional families was the common background all these children came from. These children had no scope to escape as they had no information or access to any other support system beside their own families.
What happens when the most safe space for a child becomes a zone of fear, threat and suffocation? What happens when deepest bonds of faith and trust is misused and exploited? Where should this child go?
One of the child I met told me that her parents had left her with her maternal parents from the time she was born. Most of her childhood was an eternal wait…for her parent’s occasional visit. She always believed that if her parents took her back she will also be like any normal child. Finally when she was 12yrs old her parents took her back. The first year of stay with her parents was sheer nightmare as the father would beat up the mother and daughter to vent out his anger and frustration( he was jobless). The next year saw another side of the father…a man so affectionate and loving that the child forgot and forgave all the torture. Little did she realize that he was bartering her to highest bidder. With silent connivance of the mother(who was only concerned about her own safety and security), the father sold his own daughter for prostitution. The worst part of the story he was the pimp and stood outside the room every time the daughter was send with a customer.
Where does a child who is in this kind of a situation go? The family is unsafe…no relatives or friends would like to take responsibility…and the civil society or the state have no system of protection services that is accessible.
A glance around me…revealed civil society organizations gearing up to organize protest march…conventions and generally making a lot of visibility in the media…the state trying to find the accused…the opposition trying to find fault with everything that the state is doing…But NOT even a single person were thinking what do these children need?
Interactions with the general public was even more scary…most of them were convinced that the 7yr old, 10 yr old and the 14yr old were all immoral persons with loose character and were just making up all these stories to gain attention.
It is such a irony when a person in prostitution Nalini Jameela wrote her story…the world had only eyes and ears for her…chat shows…column after column were written…so much so that the world was glorifying her life in commercial sexual exploitation…but today when these children’s stories are part of everyday news…nobody is thinking how can we prevent this? How can we protect these children?
I have been asked a million times “will you start a branch in Kerala”…my question is do I have to? Can you not be that person who can also reach out…is it not our collective responsibility make this world safe of our children!

Friday, April 22, 2011


I am a blessed person as I have the honor of meeting the worst to the best men in my personal and professional life.

Rescuing thousands of women and children from sexual slavery, I have heard millions of stories of brutality of men. Buying sex from a anonymous person gives so much of freedom and guts to do whatever your sadist minds can fantasize. From pouring chilli powder into the vagina, burning with cigarettes, cigars to tying to a bedpost and whipping anything and everything is possible in paid sex. I always thought in a marriage or in a love relationship a lot of restrain is exercised. Today that too is shaking. The whole of this week I was dealing with a case of "date rape", the young man raped the girl so brutally that her vagina was completely torn(needed stitches to patch it) and she was bleeding profusely. In my own personal life being gang raped by eight men had its own nightmarish impact on my body if not my soul.

On the other hand I have also met the best of the best men on the planet. Starting with my father who was my strength throughout my childhood and as a young adult. He encouraged me to follow my heart never imposing any personal dreams as expectation in spite of the fact that I was his favorite child and had all the qualities to make his dreams come true. In my early twenties I met my mentor and friend Bro Jose who was instrumental in guiding me to establish the proactive intervention 'Prajwala'. Bro Jose was an example to all the victims we rescued that all men are not abusers. And then I met Rajesh my soul mate and husband. A secure man whose greatest happiness is the growth of his wife. Words are inadequate to explain the extraordinary role Rajesh is playing in strengthening my activism and my interventions. One day when I was fed up with the non stop threatening calls I was getting I asked Raj 'if I am killed by these people what will you do?' The answer I got " It will be an honor for me if you are killed while rescuing a child"

After seeing and understanding the best and the worst I am more and more realizing that there is a need to bring all the best together and create a counter movement to reduce or better still eradicate the worst.
My faith was further reinforced and got a new direction with an incident that happened in my recent US trip. After my presentation to a group 200 Indians and Americans I found one gentleman giving me strange stares. After all the participants left I found this man still sitting there. And then reluctantly he came to where I stood. Automatically I stretched my hand for a shake hand and a thank you at the tip of my tongue( that is what I was doing for the better part of one hour). The man held my hand and broke down...I was bewildered and confused.And then softly he said "I have raped a lot children...I went to Combodia and Srilanka for them" I was numbed, no words would come does one react to such a statement. In silence I held his hand...and slowly I told him to seek help. For four days I tossed and turned, my sleep lost with this strange incident. For years I had held only anger and bitterness against all perpetrators and now I have one who is seeking my energy to heal him, what does one do? And then he sent a mail sharing with me how his father started sexually abusing him from the age of 4yrs and how by the time he was 7yrs he started enjoying the abuse and by the age of 15yrs became a powerful person in the household of eight as he was his father's pet. In his adult life he wanted to recreate the same pleasure and that is how he started abusing little kids. His obsession took him to Combodia and to Srilanka where he bought little boys for sex.

This incident transformed me forever, for the first time I realized that maybe working with perpetrators is also a tool for prevention.

On 28th March 2011 we launched Men Against Demand(M.A.D) and today I am hoping that even perpetrators can be sensitized and inspired to join the movement.
For all the wonderful men reading my blog please pledge your support for the movement by signing, We need your support to fight this battle and more to come.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Prajwala on Facebook

As an organization, we want to thank those of you who have begun the discussion about Prajwala and the flesh trade on facebook. We appreciate your continued efforts as they truly make a difference.

To enhance your current efforts, please also "like" the official Prajwala fanpage on facebook found here.

Our dream is that the fan page will be a platform to hold discussions, share ideas, provide updates, and connect thousands of anti-trafficking crusaders from around the world.

Please join us and thank you for your support.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Financial Sustainability for organizations like mine-Is it possible?

One thing that has not changed in the last two decades of my mission is my "begging bowl". Way back in 1995 I used go around begging for a few thousands to run my small initiative. Insults, humiliations and rejection were more during those days. I remember once going to a rich businessman who was highly titillated by my mission,kept asking me hundred questions on what customers do to children, gave me a cup of tea and then took out his wallet searched among the 500 and 100 rupee notes, took out a Rs 50 note and gave it to me,and said very solemnly "this is my contribution for your cause, my company does not have a policy right now but if there is one I will surely make a larger contribution"!
In another instance a leading automobile showroom located at Basheerbagh,Hyderabad promised me Rs 10,000/ after making me run around for over a fortnight and then insisted that I sign on a receipt for Rs 40,000/ to actually get Rs 10,000/. Arrogant as I was then( still remain the same) I refused the donation and came back and promptly lost two well wishers who had made the connections.

Today of course the situation has changed I am not running for thousands but for millions. Rarely do I meet people who can rip me apart with their insensitivity, rarely do I have nightmares fearing how am I going to feed my children in my shelter...even more rarely do I break down overwhelmed with frustration "how long should I prove my much do I need to damage myself so that the world understands that I am doing all this genuinely"...

But has my begging for support changed? Not at all? It is sometimes even worse than my earlier days. People think that I am extravagant to aim for a safe space for children. Donors, international agencies, supporters have a myriad reasons for cutting off can range from recession to "your cause does not catch my fancy", or better still this cause is now no more our thrust area!!!.

That I continue do what I am doing is considered a demonstration of arrogance rather than commitment. I even had a well wisher telling me if you cannot look after these children, hand them over to the government! All because I went begging for support to construct our buildings.

And finally the million dollar question most donor agency ask" how is your organization going to become sustainable" we cannot be funding you eternally...

True so what should I be doing? Should I make my initiative a profit making unit charging huge interests for the services I am providing like what the Micro Finance Institutions like SKC are doing? Whom should I charge every time I risk my life and my team's to rescue victims? Whom should I charge for taking care of hundreds of child victims of trafficking? Whom should I bill for economically empowering thousands of young survivors of trafficking? Whom should I ask to pay for all the cremations/funerals I have to give to ensure a dignified exit from this world for my children( incidently not a single donor/supporter is willing to donate for a cremation)?

Or should I temporarily forget my main mission and become a actress, or a spiritual leader a mata"something" or maybe a sadhvi"something", or a celebrity chef...(I cannot go further as my talents are limited). It appears a large group of people are willing to donate to one of these more generously...

Today as I am surrounded by multiple financial crises- donor for our children's shelter phasing out, our second generation prevention program donor phasing out, our rescue efforts-no donors at all and biggest of all our construction of shelters which has over-shot the budget by 2 crores as the cost of building construction material( sand,cement,steel etc) has shot up by 250%... I am seriously thinking how does anybody expect us to become financially sustainable.Especially in a context when we are not even sustainable in terms of human resources!!!

It continues to be a great challenge to get people to work with us full time.For ages we are looking for somebody who can do our documentation for donor compliances ( believe me it is not possible to sit far away and do it as it requires a lot more of understanding of the pulse of the work )...or exclusively work on fund raising...or look after the advocacy...or work on marketing... Every time there is a physical attack on the organization the first persons to leave are the 'professionals', most cannot handle the pressure...including the pressure related to working with a person like me.

But I am sure there must be something logical and sensible in this expectation of 'sustainability'...just figuring out how to do it in a world which is slowly shrinking in terms of 'giving'...cutting down and downsizing is for humanitarian work( you will understand what I am saying if you see the budgets allocated for social sector)...but financial investments for war...ammunition...terrorism...marriages...scams(2G, CWG, IPL)...even auctioning for cricketers continues to grow with electrifying speed...

And fools like me continue to beg for constructing a safe shelter for victimized human beings...