Sunitha Krishnan: Rape Survivor to Saviour of Many

Sunitha Krishnan is an Indian Social Activist and chief functionary and co-founder of Prajwala, a non-government organization that rescue, rehabilitate sex-trafficking victims into society.

She has worked relentlessly to bring about a change in the attitude of India’s government for victim-friendly policies as well as awareness regarding sex trafficking through political, legal and media advocacy. Her organization Prajwala, has an international reputation and Ms. Krishnan is regularly consulted, in addition to the Indian authorities, by the United Nations and US government. She is making it possible for India’s Government and Citizen’s Organizations to manage jointly a range of protective and rehabilitative services for women and children who have trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

Krishna was born in 1972 at Bangalore to Palakkad Malayali parents Raju Krishnan and Nalini Krishnan. She saw most of the country early on while travelling from one place to another with her father, who worked with the Department of Survey which makes maps for the entire country.

Krishnan was a precocious child. Her passion for social work became manifested when, at the age of 8 years, she started teaching dance to mentally challenged children. By the age of 12, she was running schools in slums for underprivileged children. At the age of 15, while working on a neo-literacy campaign for the Dalit community, Krishnan wasgang raped by eight men. This incident served as the impetus for what she does today.

Krishnan studied in Central Government Schools in Bangalore and Bhutan. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences from St. Joseph’s College in Bangalore, Krishnan completed her MSW (medical & psychiatric) from Roshni Nilaya, Mangalore and later her PhD in social work. To complete the fieldwork requirement for the doctorate, Krishnan took up the subject of the life of sex workers.


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, Krishnan started a transition school at the vacated brothel to prevent the second generation from being trafficked. In its early years, Krishnan had to sell her jewelry and even most of her household utensils to make ends meet at Prajwala.
Today, Prajwala stands upon five pillars: prevention, rescue, rehabilitation, reintegration and advocacy. The organization extends moral, financial, legal and social support to victims and ensures that perpetrators are brought to justice. To date, Prajwala has rescued, rehabilitated, or served over 12,000 survivors of sex trafficking, and the scale of their operations makes them the largest anti-trafficking shelter in the world.

Prajwala has over 200 employees, but Krishnan runs the organization as a full-time volunteer a decision she took very early in her life. She supports herself, with help from her husband, by writing books and giving speeches and seminars on trafficking worldwide. She is married to Mr. Rajesh Touchriver, an Indian filmmaker, art director and scriptwriter, who has made several films in collaboration with Prajwala. One of the films, Anamika, is now a part of the curricula of the National Police Academy, while another Naa Bangaaru Talli won 3 National Awards in 2014.

Social Policy

In 2003, Krishnan 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 for commercial sexual exploitation vide GO MS 1. The states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi are now taking cues from Krishnan’s strategies to bring in similar rescue policies.

Ms. Krishnan was appointed as advisor for the Government of Kerala’s Nirbhaya policy for Women and Children to fight sexual violence and trafficking in 2011. The scheme, which was originally drafted by Krishnan, is coordinated by various government departments like social welfare, SC/ST, police, health, labor and local self-government in collaboration with NGOs. However, she resigned from this advisory position on August 4, 2014, expressing anguish and frustration at the lack of political will to implement the Nirbhaya policy. In March 2015, in a “move of repentance” the government re-inducted Sunitha Krishnan back to its Nirbhaya scheme by giving her more decision-making power through the role of Honorary Director.
Based on the success of her anti-trafficking initiatives, Krishnan has evolved global parameters for best practices for shelter homes for Department of Justice, United States of America as well as National Minimum Standard for running second generation prevention program in India. She was also appointed as a member of the Andhra Pradesh State Women’s Commission and contributed to India’s new Bill on Rape, which was passed in Parliament in 2013 to increase punitive measures for sexual violence and assault.

Legal Advocacy

With personal experience in many raids, Krishnan has realized that without a meaningful state policy, no amount of social work or activism at the micro-level is enough to be helpful. She therefore goes about her task forging partnerships with various police departments, especially Women Protection Cell, the Anti Human Trafficking Unit. Krishnan started the first ever Crises Counseling Centre in Afzalgunj Police Station–a pilot project for Police-NGO collaboration to intercept sex trafficking. She has persuaded the Andhra Pradesh government to work with her in cracking down on this organized crime and helped secure the conviction of more than 150 traffickers.
Krishnan has also conducted sensitization workshops for thousands of senior police officers, judges, prosecutors and Child Welfare Committee members to equip them with the requisite understanding and skills to effectively handle cases of human trafficking and advocate for child-friendly courts. As a result, police personnel ranking from Superintendents to Sub Inspectors have been trained on how to combat the crime and address the psycho-social needs of victims during and after rescue.

Ms. Krishnan draws strength from her pain and anger, and channelizes it to the task at hand which is to use every possible forum to shake society out of its complacency and tolerance of sexual exploitation. When asked what keeps her going, she doesn’t hesitate: “I live for the smiles of the children I have rescued. I live for the hope in their eyes.

Content and Source: wikipedia

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