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Home » female exploitation » When speech is absent in rape & sexual slavery in India, Krishnan speaks out

When speech is absent in rape & sexual slavery in India, Krishnan speaks out

In India, rapists emboldened by victim blaming, frequently threaten their victims into silence by photographing or recording the crimes via photos and phones. It is a ploy used in other areas of life, in other countries too, and geared at silencing or humiliating women or men of all walks of life. But, technology can also help rape survivors tell their truth, the same way rapists use it to blackmail women into NOT reporting or silencing them or shaming them sometimes to the point of suicide. It is time to use the violators’ own weapons against them. Sunitha Krishnan is one such person.  She has edited rape videos creating a montage of videos sent to her where she blurred out victims faces forcing the viewer’s gaze to focus on the violator, NOT the woman who is raped. Krishnan has appeared on national news channel with videos urging viewers to identify the rapists. People shattered her car windows, but she tweeted “in 30 minutes after I announced on NDTV #shametherapistcampaign, my vehicle was vandalized. Happy I’m on right track”.

Krishnan herself was raped by 3 men at age 15 for teaching Dalits (the Untouchable class) to read and write. This is a serious infraction in the eyes of the caste obsessed in India. She found no justice in legal system and she couldn’t identify her rapists and was shunned by classmates, neighbors, and then her own family. For women who are raped the hypocrisy is the worst: “decent society won’t employ or even share a street with women that are raped. But it loves the men that rape”. We see this clearly in the now-playing documentary India’s Daughter [Leslee Udwin 2014] from the main narrator/accused rapist, Mukesh Singh. We also see this, too in Deepa Mehta’s 2005 Water and a lot of other films in Bollywood where it could be glamorized.

At 24, Krishnan founded Prajwala, an organization for the rescue and rehabilitation of victims of sex trafficking in her native Hyderabad. And 19 years later, it has become the largest anti trafficking shelter in the world with 300 employees, 17 schools, and medical care units for HIV positive residents. Her team has provided long overdue and therefore much-needed therapy, medical treatment, and jobs to over 12000 female victims.

The work is punishing for Krishnan: covert rescue operations in brothels, working with police to outwit pimps and middlemen, and breaking toxic cycles of drug dependency. Krishnan has seen a colleague murdered before her eyes, faced at least 14 angry mobs, lost an eardrum, and one of her arms is permanently damaged. She is battle-scarred but not battle weary at 43.

After the 2012 Delhi rape [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Delhi_gang_rape], state government started outdoing each other by allocating large funding for women’s safety and Kerala government was quick to woo Krishnan with implementing the “Nirbhaya Policy” advising the government to establish other centers like Prajwala. For Krishnan it was a do or die situation to create crisis center for women who could guide survivors through their legal battles until the trial was completed. But 3 years after she was defeated by red tape and government apathy. She’d been treated like royalty by Kerala administration with her every suggestion turned into policy and even named after her, but bureaucrats didn’t understand that results were needed on the ground. Therefore, she resigned, and in her blog she wrote: “we at one end, struggled with resource crunch, at another fight the sex mafia, but the biggest fight is against society and the state for its apathy and rejection. After rescuing 12000 girls from prostitution and attempting to rehabilitate them, I am still wondering…will I ever make an impact?”

The continuing misogyny in India is so strong that frequently, sex traffickers and lawyers ask Krishnan if she is running a sex racket herself or if the girls she rescues have lesbian sex with her. On the Internet there is no form of abuse she hasn’t faced. And after years of fighting the mafia, the state, the garden-variety misogyny, Krishnan has to be positive. She keeps going believing that “if you look into the eyes of a child who has been sold, raped and beaten and you still find love, how can you stay angry with the world?”

In November 2014, Krishnan was presented with the Mandela award and in 2015 her circulated video caused CBI to arrest for the first time. Krishnan made 6 demands among which a task force set up by CBI to investigate such offenses – a task force [like Europe the UK and the US] that India needs so very urgently. She suggested creating a public register for sex offenders where the service providers like whatsapp & YouTube would agree to be more vigilant – and where suspicious pornographic videos could be sent to law enforcement agencies rather than “adult content” folders.
Today, Sunitha Krishnan is back in Kerala and is now honorary director of Nirbhaya Scheme in the government. Some people believe she’s humiliating the women raped by publishing videos to catch rapists in flagrante but it may be the only way to save 4 year olds from being raped. Or 15 year olds. Or girls from being infected with HIV. Or committing suicide out of desperation or shame or aloneness. Sadly, the initial humiliation women feel when videos go public needs to be overcome because of the greater good of Krishnan’s cause. Women MUST feel comfortable to report rape. Krishnan was raped by 8 men at 15, but it was never shame that she felt, just raging anger. Perhaps women who feel shame or humiliated could profit from her ‘coming out’ and ‘speaking out’. The men who rape use ‘shame’ after all to control, silence and threaten women because sadly, it is perhaps the only thing they fear in the society.

This blog is informed from Nishita Jha’s article in the NYTimes on 4.22.15 “The woman who turned the tables on rapists in India”.


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