An Eternal Flame
Padma Shri in 2016
Tallberg Global Leadership Prize
Naa Bangaaru Talli won 5 international awards in 2013 & 3 National awards in 2014
Anamika—The Nameless (2005)
Sunitha Krishnan, co-founder of NGO Prajwala, has relentlessly been fighting human trafficking for more than two decades now
Sunitha Krishnan’s clear voice rings out: “I’m not asking you all to become Mahatma Gandhis or Martin Luther Kings, or Medha Patkar’s, or something like that. I’m asking you, in your limited world, can you open your minds? Can you open your hearts? Can you just encompass these people too? Because they are also a part of us. They are also part of this world. I’m asking you to help them, except as human beings—not as philanthropy, not as charity, but as human beings who deserve all our support. I’m asking you this because no child, no human being, deserves what these children have gone through.”
When you hear her speak, her strong conviction is palpable. So is her acuity. A recipient of the Padma Shri, the country’s fourth-highest civilian honor, Krishnan is an ardent social activist battling for victims of sex-trafficking, rescuing, rehabilitating and reintegrating them back into the society.
Co-founder of Prajwala, Krishnan has successfully set up the world’s largest shelter for sex trafficked people. Working in collaboration with national and state governments, other NGOs and corporate partners, she has been a prominent national crusader against sex trafficking for more than two decades, undaunted by the 17 attacks on her over the years. From giving dance classes to mentally challenged kids at the tender age of 8 to organizing classes for underprivileged children in slums as a 12-year-old and serving at a literacy camp for Dalits, she has always nurtured a strong desire for helping the less fortunate.
She did not let herself be pushed down by the humiliation and ostracism meted out to her by society when she was gang-raped as a teenager. Instead, she turned her anger over the unfair treatment into a force that drove her to work against the world’s third-largest organized crime, human trafficking. “What affected me more was the way society treated me, the way people looked at me,” she says.“Nobody questioned why those guys did it. They questioned why I went there, why my parents gave me freedom. And I realized that what happened to me was a one-time thing. But for many people, it was a daily thing.”
In 1996, along with late Brother Jose Vetticatil, she founded Prajwala from the modest premises of an evacuated brothel at Mehboob Ki Mehndi in Hyderabad. They started by educating five children of sex workers. Prajwala works on the five principles of Prevention, Protection, Rescue, Rehabilitation and Reintegration. The rescued women are rehabilitated and provided vocational training to win financial independence. Their children are educated to save them from second-generation sexual exploitation. Today, more than 9,600 children have been educated and put on the path to a brighter future.
Krishnan has also been instrumental in formulating anti-trafficking state policies. More than 8 million people have been sensitized, thanks to Prajwala’s community outreach programmes. Swaraksha, Men against Demand and Shame the Rapist have been successful campaigns by Prajwala. Krishnan regularly speaks on national and global platforms on human trafficking.
Pledging to be a lifetime volunteer at Prajwala, Krishnan leads a 300-member team today, most of them being rescued women. Having rescued more than 20,000 trafficked victims so far, and rehabilitated 18,500 of them, Krishnan still feels “that’s hardly a speck when we think of over three million women and children victims,” she says. The age of victims is getting lower and their economic profile is changing. Even middle class and upper-middle-class girls are victims, with the growth of social medium platforms. Our perceptions of trafficking and the methods to combat it need to be re-examined.”
“NOBODY QUESTIONED WHY THOSE GUYS DID IT. THEY QUESTIONED WHY I WENT THERE, WHY MY PARENTS GAVE ME FREEDOM.”Sunitha Krishnan, Co-founder, Prajwala