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Hyderabad activist enables sex workers start life afresh

K Rajani Kanth  |  New Delhi 

empowers them through training in carpentry, welding and housekeeping.
For 12-year-old Laila, it was a never ending saga of pain and fear. Enslaved in a cellar for three years, she was subjected to physical abuse and mental torture by a number of men.
She can barely recall her childhood, the time when she was fondly called Laxmi in her hometown in Andhra Pradesh. Laila was rescued by Prajwala, an anti-trafficking organisation, from a red light area in Mumbai.
Prajwala is a movement started by Sunitha Krishnan, a health care professional in Hyderabad. Sunitha is full of stories of many such girls who were rescued and brought back into society.
"Even as a young girl of 16, I wanted to work for the cause of children and women. I was arrested for protesting against the 1995 Miss World contest held in Bangalore, and had to serve a two-month sentence. After being released, I decided to move out of Bangalore and settle down in Hyderabad," 35-year-old Sunitha, co-founder and chief functionary, Prajwala, says.
In 1996, sex workers living in Mehboob ki Mehandi, a red light area in Hyderabad, were evacuated. As a result, thousands of women, who were caught in the clutches of prostitution, were left homeless.
Having found a like-minded person in Brother Jose Vetticatil, a missionary, started a transition school at the vacated brothel to prevent the second generation from being trafficked.
"We began in a small way by responding to the plight of the mothers. Things were not easy during the initial days. Although the women were concerned about their children, they were not ready for any kind of partnership. I made a calculated move to have a win-win situation. 'You give me information about the destitute women trapped in prostitution, and I will provide education to your child' was how I convinced the them, and it worked well," she says.
Today, Prajwala runs over 17 transition centres in different areas of Andhra Pradesh for the sex workers' children. Over 5,000 children have benefited from the second generation prevention programme.
The organisation, so far, has rescued more than 2,500 victims with the help of the information provided by its partners and through police intervention. The organisation has 80 members in India and 25 members abroad.
"In order to empower the rescued, we started to train them in carpentry, welding, printing and stationery material, and also in the manufacture of wooden and steel furniture, besides training them as housekeepers to work in hotels and hospitals," Sunitha says.
"So far, we have provided rehabilitation to nearly 1,500 girls, but couldn't succeed in doing so in 1,000 other cases. I don't think I failed but probably I didn't get the desired results. For instance, we rescued a 20-year girl from a Pune red light area and offered a Rs 6,000-per month salary package to her to work for us. She rejected the offer and went back. After 10 days, she called me and said she realised her mistake and was willing to work for the cause. Today, she is one of our main informers. Now, can this be called a failure," she says.
is supported by Rajesh Touch River, a film maker known for his internationally-acclaimed movie In the Name of Buddha. He has made more than a dozen short films for Prajwala. One of these films Anamika (nameless) is now a part of the curricula of the Andhra Pradesh Police Academy and the National Police Academy.
"Unlike many other organisations, Prajwala is not a project. It is a need-based organisation. I will close down Prajwala the day society stops treating women and children as objects of exploitation," proclaims

First Published: Tue, September 25 2007. 00:00 IST