social & justice

WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH: Sunitha Krishnan

Karthika S Nair | Mar 30 2020
Image credits: Twitter

Sunitha Krishnan: Fending Off Threats To Help Trafficking Victims

“I am fighting for a new world order, a world where there is no violation of any human being." - Sunitha Krishnan.

Sunitha Krishnan experienced pain and scars very early in her life but she refused to break. Instead, she dedicated her life to rescuing and rehabilitating sex traffic victims. 

Early Life And Touches With Activism

Sunitha Krishnan was born to Raju and Nalini Krishnan in Bangalore. Both her parents were from Kerala but due to her father's work, they had to travel a lot. Her father used to work with the Department of Survey which made maps for India.

She had her schooling in Central Government Schools in Bangalore and Bhutan. Afterwards, she obtained a bachelor's degree in environmental sciences from St. Joseph's College in Bangalore and MSW (medical & psychiatric) from Roshni Nilaya, Mangalore. 

Even when she was as young as eight years old, Sunitha's passion for social work was visible. She taught dance to children who were mentally challenged. At the age of fifteen, she taught in schools located in slums for the underprivileged children and worked for the neo-literacy campaign for the Dalit community. 

Sunitha's social work, however, did not meet well with many in a patriarchal society that expected women to be secondary to men. She was sexually assaulted and beaten up by eight men when she was a teenager. They did it as a lesson to a woman who had been interfering in a man's world with her work. She was beaten up so badly that she was left partially deaf in one ear.

But, it didn't break Sunitha; she saw it as an impetus to help her do more.

Prajwala

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Image credit: Twitter

Sunitha took her work to Hyderabad. In 1996, she joined PIN as the Coordinator for the program for young women and was soon involved in helping the housing problems of people who lived in slums. PIN fought for housing rights of the slum dwellers whose houses were destroyed by a beautification project. 

In 1996, several sex workers of Mehboob ki Mehandi who were living in a red light area in Hyderabad were vacated. This left a lot of women homeless. Sunitha Krishnan started a transition school at the vacated brothel to stop the next generation of girls from becoming sex workers. In the early days of this, she funded the initiative by selling her jewelry and utensils at home. 

Thus, she founded Prajwala, which runs on the principles of prevention, rescue, rehabilitation, reintegration and advocacy by extending moral, financial, legal and social support to survivors as well as bringing the perpetrators to justice. 

Today, Prajwala is the largest shelter for survivors by housing 12,000 survivors of sex trafficking and human trafficking.

Prajwala spearheaded an economic rehabilitation program that trains survivors and children in various professions like carpentry, welding, printing, housekeeping, etc.

Social Advocacy

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Image source: pinterest

She drafted recommendations for rehabilitation of victims of sex trafficking in Andhra Pradesh, which were passed by the State Government as a Policy for Rescue & Rehabilitation of Victims of Trafficking.

She appeared in Tedx talks, media programs, etc to talk about the sexual exploitation of women and children. 

She launched the Men Against Demand campaign with the slogan "Real Men Don’t Buy Sex" which has reached 1.8 billion people worldwide through her words and determination. 

She was a member of the Andhra Pradesh State Women's Commission and contributed to India's new bill on rape.

Sunitha Krishnan conceptualized and scripted 14 documentaries on socially relevant issues such as HIV/AIDS, Sheikh marriages, incest, prostitution, sex trafficking, communal riots, and all. Her documentary 'Anamika—The Nameless' won the AC award under the "Best Foreign Award" category in 2005. 

Due to her conversations about Sheikh marriages and the exploitation of women by religious fundamentalism, Sunitha faced threats from those communities. 

She survived murder attempts, acid attack injuries, threats, etc throughout her career. 

Awards And Recognition 

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Image source: youtube

Sunitha Krishnan won India's fourth highest civilian award Padma Shri in the field of Social Work in the year 2016. She was conferred with the PRAYUKTI SAMMAAN 2017 by Dainik Prayukti Hindi Daily at the Constitution Club of India in New Delhi.

The National Commission for Women conferred her with the "Outstanding Woman" Award in 2013. In the same year, the Government of Kerala gave her "Mahila Thilakam" Award.

In 2014, she won the Mother Teresa Awards for Social Justice.