Sometimes the problems are not seemingly big but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth…certain restlessness seeps in…and you start becoming generally paranoid.
I am going through one such phase. Few weeks back some associates called me and informed about an International Journalist who is trying to find out about Prajwala. They felt rather uncomfortable with the questions and felt compelled to inform me. One of them was somebody whom I had a lot of differing opinion. That was the start.
A few days later a senior officer called me and informed me that a foreign journalist was asking questions which were quite intrusive. Immediately after that we received a call from a senior officer in the Department of Women & Child Welfare requesting that a foreign journalist was interested to visit our shelter home. As per our organizational media policy (which was evolved in the last decade or so) we do not allow any journalists inside our shelter, so we point blank refused.
As an organization we have allowed only those willing girls/survivors who have been released from the shelter as per court orders to speak to the media. Here again the choice is completely with the girl to speak or not to speak. Many of our survivors who lead the community based awareness program are quite articulate and have spoken in front of the media.
My antennae was up, and I was wondering who is this person & why is he snooping about our organization and me but has not made any efforts to meet me. I called up the officials and got the name of the person. And then I realized that I know this person.
Many months back when I was in Armenia nominated for a Humanitarian Award, I had met this person. Even then my conversation with this person was uncomfortable, as I kept feeling that I was being cross-examined and there was a general bias against our work and me. This journalist was apparently writing a piece on ‘Re-trafficking in South Asia” or atleast that was what he was claiming on record (he had written a mail to me). I did express my discomfort to the organizers…as this was the first time I was facing any media person who was questioning me like this and definitely I was not expecting something like this when I was being applauded by international recognition.
So I wrote a simple mail telling him that I know he is in Hyderabad. He responded immediately that he was here for three weeks and he was very busy with his interviews but would like to meet me and also visit our shelter. So I responded that we cannot permit the shelter visit and as I was traveling extensively I also cannot meet him.
After that he has met several people, his questions were related to February attack in our shelter, our integrity and credibility and also about an article that appeared in Newyork Times. But how is all this connected to ‘Re-trafficking in South Asia’ I will know when I read the proposed article. The nut & bolt of the matter was none of people whom he met felt comfortable.
Finally last week this person called me up. The call that lasted for 45 minutes left a deep bitter taste in my mouth. Apart from questioning me about the February attack which his questions insinuated that it never happened or it was wrongly reported, to questioning me about our media policy and stating that I am not very transparent.
So I told him, while my shelters do not provide development tourism opportunity and are not open for any random visitor, the agencies I am accountable to, including my donors, investigating officers and judicial officers have had opportunities to visit.
In fact license to run a shelter is issued only after the Department of Women & Child does a detailed scrutiny. And Prajwala is the first licensed shelter in Hyderabad. He wanted a copy of the Scrutiny Report which I said is with the Department. He told me that the department denied doing any such report…I said ‘you should find out from them why they said something like that’. To that immediately he retorted ‘why do you think she lied about this report’.
His questions about our rehabilitation program was on lines that we make girls work to generate revenue for the organization. He also asked me questions on how we call somebody a trafficker.
By the end of the call my head was aching…and then he said something to the effect I hope you will respond if I have any further queries. So I asked him, how is he seeking my cooperation for an article that was obviously against us and whether he will show us a draft? To that he replied that he has been given a ‘grant’ to do this piece and the grantee which is an American Organization does not permit him to share the draft. Very probably the article will appear in ‘The Guardian’,‘Foreign Policy’ and some other papers.
Very obviously(from all the questions asked to me and others) the article is aiming to discredit Prajwala’s rehabilitation model and also maybe show me in a bad light. What can I say, but just wonder what will somebody gain by discrediting us?
During this process I also came to know that a similar effort was made two years back by somebody who teaches International Studies at California State University. She was commissioned to do a research on our rehabilitation model. While this lady did not make any effort to meet me, she met another organization that advocates for legalization of sex work and wrote a one-sided piece which was published in the Economic and Political Weekly titled ‘Humanitarian Trafficking’ –Violence of Rescue & (Mis) Calculation of Rehabilitation’. The article does not mention us but out of context quotes me from my blogs. The attacks from traffickers who were posing as ‘victims’ in our shelter was portrayed in the article as ‘riots’ by inmates who were protesting against bad conditions in the home. I can only smile sadly!
Who gains from discrediting us? Years of struggle to find the right answers and strategies to evolve a holistic rehabilitation model has not been easy with challenges from within and outside.
Financially sustaining these efforts without even a fund-raising team has been a herculean uphill task…We are not perfect…and we are constantly trying to evolve the right answers. Our strategies are based on the legal framework within which we are operating…we are also striving very hard to bring in better legal framework.
While discrediting is easy…the consequence of the same is far reaching. While there are dime to dozen organizations claiming to work on anti-trafficking…and several more who are sensitizing…the number of people working on setting up ‘safe homes’ that will assist in holistic rehabilitation is becoming fewer maybe closer to extinct and such articles do not encourage more genuine organizations to take up this kind of work. Most of the organizations that take government funds under ‘Ujjwala’ Scheme to set up homes do not have a single trafficked person in their home.
Demoralizing events/stories…can have its own consequences…
But from our end none of this is going to deter us from continuing our mission…we will continue to strive to find better strategies to improve our model…in all our failures…we will slowly but steadily build our success….a world free of sex slavery…a world where survivors will find their rightful place.