Monday, October 22, 2018


From the time #MeToo movement started, I have wondered, what if a family member of mine was accused of sexually harassing a woman? What would be my position? How would I react? Will I be able to speak in public about it? What will be the repercussions in my life?

Well I did not have to wonder too long. A newcomer actor who worked in my husband Rajesh Touchriver’s under-production bi-lingual Odiya/telugu film ‘Patnagarh’, accused him of ‘mental harassment’, ‘gender discrimination’ and making ‘sexist remarks’. While the film is produced by Sridhar Martha and has three co-producers Manoj Mishra, Atul Kulkarni and me, for reasons best known to this aggrieved person she only mentions me apart from Rajesh Touchriver (she also mentions another actor in the video).  I am sure she must be having a justifiable reason for mentioning me in the #MeToo post & thereafter a video, even though I visited the location only twice while the others were there throughout.

Since I was fully aware of the day-today happenings on the sets and all the challenges related to the production right from the start, at least in this case I did not have any moral or ethical dilemma on what my position should be,  I knew the complete truth! 

But is it distressing?  Yes it is!

It is distressing to see, colleagues in my sector posting the news article of this case with statements such as ‘Living one’s politics is tougher when one has to confront it at home, isn’t it?

It was also distressing to see, people(who are not even friends on Fb with the aggrieved person) who were given significant roles in Rajesh’s films sharing the Fb post of the aggrieved person (now one was wondering what was this person’s problem? when even after 1 year after the movie was produced she has not mentioned anything, she has even joined two film festivals with us where the movie was nominated)…you actually start becoming paranoid!

It was painful to see friends feeling compelled to ‘lash out’ but unable to do so for the fear of public perception.

It was also very distressing to answer friends and relatives who were anguished to see Rajesh’s name appearing in all kinds of shows on television including FIR as an accused.

What should be my position? If I speak, it will be ‘manipulation of victimhood’ (this is what one gentleman accused me of) and if I don’t it will be ‘ look at her, she was so articulate about the #MeToo, now since it is her husband, she is keeping quite’.

I have been a great supporter of #MeToo movement, as I think it gave platform for at least one class of women to speak up. But I was always of the opinion that just #MeToo has no relevance(please refer to all my tweets in the last few months). This should be followed by #MeTooWillReport. In the absence of reporting it is just an allegation…an accusation and sometimes it has the potential to be misused.
As much as the aggrieved person has the right to dignity and justice, so does the alleged person has the right to clear his name.  

While the rich & famous today may step down from a current position they are holding under duress and pressure, the large number of #MeToo will continue at homes/schools/colleges/offices/public places…for there is no deterrence...

Yes when a near & dear one is accused ‘fairly or unfairly’ it hurts…and when somebody uses it to settle scores it hurts even further…but the truth gives you confidence and the trust gives you strength.

On my part, I will continue to fight to ‘break the silence’, I will stand by the ‘truth’  and I will do everything under the sun in my power to support the ‘genuine victims’.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018


I know as I start typing these words on the keyboard a huge world of people are going to be very disappointed in me...but I am what I am...and feel compelled to write what I feel very strongly from my innermost being.

From an early age, I was very spiritual. My parents are god-fearing and instilled in me the presence of a higher power. I am fairly ritualistic...but do not know any hindu chants/sholkas etc. My commune with God was and is a deep communication which I have nurtured through a pattern of daily prayers. I think from an early age I came to believe that not all is humanly possible...there are situations/ events that can drain you....there are human beings who will hurt you...and in all these happenings if you surrender to a higher are able to draw the strength to keep moving inspite of all obstacles.

I guess everybody in this world finds ways and means to cope and move ahead...for me it was largely through the spiritual strength churned out of daily meditation and prayers. Over the years, I started developing my personal symbols of hope & strength. The female deities who were embodiment of power/shakti/para-shakti became my personal favorites. Maybe all this is also connected to my evolution as a person. 
But one male deity who caught my attention was 'Lord Ayyappa'. I still remember as a child when my father went to Sabarimala after observing 41days of austerity...I spent days listening to the stories of Lord Ayyapa after he came back...and one thing that stuck me was that this is a secular temple...Vavar a muslim warrior was Lord Ayyapa's best friend...infact I understand there is a dargah for Vavar Swami enroute to Sabarimala... Believers from all faith can go here which is not a usual practice in many temples in Kerala where it is explicitly written outside that 'only Hindus can enter'. K.J Yesuday a legendary singer who is a Christian has visited the temple and a song sung by him composed by Sri Kambangudi Kulathur Srinivasa Iyer in Sanskrit is the lullaby that is played every night in this temple.  Once I understood the set of rituals that was followed for the 41days austerity, I could clearly understand why only girl children before they attain menarche and women after they attain menopause were allowed to climb the '18 steps' to have a darshan/sight of Lord Ayyapa.      

Over the years, I saw each temple across the country have their own unique rituals. There are temples which chant 'profanity' (Kodungallur Amma) and there are temples which celebrity feminine power (Kamakhya Temple)...maybe there are rituals that are regressive too. But over a period of a organic evolution...and maybe also because of the of the efforts of reformist regressive harmful rituals have ended. But the faith and belief of the believers continues to grow. Is there a logic to it? I don't know....not everything can be explained by logic. For example I cannot logically explain the sense of God experience I feel when I am able to restore the smile on the face of a child or adult that I have rescued... It is a deeply personal moment.

Believers of any faith, evolve a set of practices that gives them comfort. Most of these practices...are oral traditions passed on from generation to generation. One important practice that most believers undertake is to visit their place of worship. For Hindus it could be Tirupati or Vaishno Devi or Sabarimala, for Christians it could be the Holy City of Jerusalem or the Vatican and for the Muslims the Mecca. Each place of worship requires a different set of rituals unique to that place of worship. One goes to these places of worship not because you cannot sit and pray in your own house or office or wherever that suits you...but there is a innate faith in all believers that collective spaces of worship gives us another level of strength which is rejuvenating. Maybe also because of the 'oneness' in worship a positive energy radiates in these places of worship. I cannot explain logically the overwhelming sense of feeling that flows as tears from my eyes...when I see Lord Balaji in Tirupati or Mookambika Devi in Kollur. I am sure that must be the same feelings for Christians when they visit Church of Holy Sepulchre,Jeruselam or for muslims when they visit Kabba in Mecca.

Why did I feel invaded when  the #Sabarimala verdict came? 
While verdict in the name of gender equality gives rights to all women to enter Sabarimala no matter what age they belong...and rightly said it was now for the women to choose whether they want to go or not, my contention is that these temples of deep faith & belief become what they become because of the specific rituals practiced by that temple. If those practices are radically changed the space loses its sanctity. Sabarimala is one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world with over 40-50 million devotees visiting every year in short span of 103 days in a year (temple is open only from 15th Nov-26th Dec, 14th Jan, 14th April and 5 days in the beginning of every month). 
Whether that gives an idea of deep faith in these practices to anybody I don't know? But I definitely know when a deep faith that stirs my soul is negated I feel disrespected and devalued. I also know that you are trying to invade and take away small spaces I have created in my life that gives me a sense of oneness with a higher being...

I will continue to strive hard to practice 'Tattavamasi' i.e.. to see the divinity in you...but do not please take away the space that I nurture which makes alive the divinity in me.    




Monday, October 1, 2018


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.