Hyderabad: A British newspaper has reported that women who were rescued from trafficking were ill-treated at Prajwala, a shelter run by well-known activist Sunita Krishnan in the city.
Ms Krishnan has received accolades across the globe for rescuing over 20,000 trafficked women. But the British newspaper, The Guardian, reported that all was not well.
Prajwala houses 600 women in its shelter in Hyderabad. Mr Joshua Caroll, based in Myanmar, who works for The Guardian, was in the city for six weeks and met seven survivors from Prajwala and reported on the conditions at the home.
Mr Caroll reported that the seven women he interviewed told him that they were ill-treated, exploited and felt caged. The women preferred staying at a prison over the home.
Mr Caroll reported that his request to visit shelter was rejected by Ms Krishnan. This newspaper made several attempts to reach Mr Caroll, and his response was awaited at the time of going to print.
The report, headlined, ‘Prison would’ve been better’: Women cry foul over celebrated Indian Charity, reported one of the survivors as saying: “I was pulled out from a sex-trafficking racket by Hyderabad police and housed at Prajwala. For about a year, I was made to sew and clean bathrooms for money that I never received. It would have been better to be in a prison, at least you can meet with your family there.”
Another survivor described the atmosphere inside Prajwala as being one of fear and despair. Those who rebelled against their detention were beaten, she alleged. The inmates have no contact with the outside world. There are several instances of inmate self-harming and suicide attempts at the shelter, The Guardian report said.
A 26-year-old Uzbek national, who was rescued from the flesh trade and lodged at the Prajwala home in Ranga Reddy district for rehabilitation allegedly committed suicide in April this year.
Women who had stayed at the home told the newspaper that they were forced to work under the “life skills” programme, which the Prajawala describes as part of its “rescue and rehabilitation” strategy. If they resisted, the police would be called and they received a severe beating, a woman said.
Another woman who stayed at the home two years ago told The Guardian that she was beaten up and her belongings confiscated. “They hit my head with a stick,” she told Mr Caroll.
Of the seven former inmates who spoke to The Guardian, five said they witnessed staff beating other detainees or were subjected to violence themselves.
Mr Caroll reported that his request to visit shelter was rejected by Ms Krishnan.
This newspaper made several attempts to reach Mr Caroll, and his response was awaited at the time of going to print
Asked about the report, Ms Krishnan alleged that it was “paid”.
“I met this journalist at an awards function and he asked me about my grants. I know he was commissioned to damage my identity. I wrote about this on my blog,” Ms Krishnan said. “He spoke to seven survivors and has named none. What about the 20,000 girls I have rescued?”
She said the entire story is judged on the experience of the seven inmates. “He has not visited my shelter but sent me a mail asking four questions, like ‘Do you beat up inmates’. How do I answer such questions,” Ms Krishnan said,
She said she “knew the lobby backing him (Mr Caroll).”
“These are girls were sent to my home by the court, and I am responsible till they stay there. If the survivors were mistreated, they would have told the court and not a journalist,” she said.
She said that 30 girls from Prajwala had gone to Kerala and rebuilt 200 homes there. “He has not talked about the good side. It is a completely distorted article.”
Prajwala receives funds from several UN agencies. In June, a panel including actor George Clooney awarded her $30,000 at the Aurora Prize. Even back in 2009, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has donated up to $30,000 to help with rescue operations and other activities.
A study published by the Human Rights Quarterly in 2010 found that ‘shelter detention’ was reported from at least a dozen countries in Asia, Europe and also Africa.
Ms Anne Gallagher, co-author of the study and an expert on international trafficking law, was quoted by Mr Caroll as saying, “Keeping adult survivors of trafficking in shelters against their will could constitute arbitrary detention.”
It is “likely to be illegal” if people are held for prolonged or unspecified periods, or in a “discriminatory manner”. In India, as in other countries, it is overwhelmingly women and girls who are kept in shelters, the newspaper reported.
Mr Caroll’s work was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting....