Friday, 26 October 2018

Celebrating Dussehra 2018


Dussehra 2018 with Women of Prajwala and Sunitha Krishnan:

To celebrate Dussehra, I would like to introduce you to a group of women who were most instrumental (literally) in celebrating this festival.  

One of the key celebrations of Dussehra is the dandiya dance and the aesthetics of the dandiya sticks has evolved over the years. This episode of my writing is to pay homage to the women of Prajwala and Sunitha Krishnan, who brought this festival alive with their version of hand made dandiya sticks that they sold for Rs 75/ pair.  Encased in its own colourful case, a few pairs of dandiya sticks were delivered to me on my recent visit to their campus so that I can take them as gifts for my colleagues at INK.

When I met Sunitha a decade ago in her tiny walk up office in the narrow gullies of Hyderabad old city in 2008 or so, she spoke about the women and children she rescues from prostitution.  She took me to a work shop a few miles away where they teach women furniture making, welding, book making etc., She said that they choose vocations that require physical strength because it is most important area of confidence building for these women who have been abused physically.  The furniture and the notebooks that they make in these workshops are supplied to schools and other institutions. When I visited her in early October of 2018, the story of the women and the need to rescue has still not changed.  She spoke of the 80 women they rescued a few days earlier, with the youngest being 2.5 years old.  What has changed is that her tiny walk up office morphed into a 3-acre office complex where uniformed security personnel guard the premises while a high iron gate further guards the recently rescued.  The campus houses the office staff as well the workshop with printing and furniture making equipment.  There is a small, elegant home standing next to the office where Sunitha stays through the week and goes to her apartment to see her husband on Sundays.  There are 4 to 5 guest rooms for the well wishers or visiting volunteers to stay.  A few kilometres away a 10-acre campus has been created as a permanent home for the rescued women with crèche facilities for the children of working mothers.  An organic garden exists in each campus to feed its inhabitants. After my first visit in 2008, I worked with Sunitha to raise the money they needed to build all these facilities by bringing in not only well-meaning individuals but also organisations like google.org and other large Foundations.  I have seen Sunitha leverage every paisa that is raised by making the most of it.  Sunitha and her husband built the two campuses with a fraction of the cost of what most builders might have spent with sustainability and elegance.

Following my article, you will find links to her talks that we curated, which narrate her own journey.  What’s impressive is not only the number of women they rescued but the eco system that they built to counter human trafficking.  Be it passing laws that make men equally responsible when they are caught (instead of parading the women to prisons while letting the men go) to training police academies across India to teach them how to conduct the raids, follow the leads, develop a sensitive way of handling, or going on a road trip to districts across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to educate about trafficking – each activity is done with limited resources and large impact.  I have also seen her train the next generation of rescuers, rehabilitators, accountants and anyone else who might touch the eco system. 

Sunitha is on a journey to replace herself in the day-to-day operations so that she has more time to write and give herself the best gift possible – time to be with herself.  Let’s all wish her luck in her journey. 

What I learnt from Women of Prajwala:

Personally, they put a perspective on what I call “problems”.  I have no right to complain about my bank balance or personal comforts when I see the women who are so graceful despite us letting them down as a society.  Professionally, our ability to convert inspiration to impact for Prajwala gave us the courage to start INK in India and continue that journey.   Sunitha’s talk was so powerful that we decided to take action and help her build a permanent home for Prajwala.  Our audience, our INK tribe played a part in building these campuses and each time I visit the campus that Sunitha built, I feel that INK hit the jackpot. On those lonely nights when I question my decision as an entrepreneur, I think of the campus and feel as though I closed a fresh round of funding.

Beaten into submission
bounced from man to man
bodies may have hardened
but the spirit stays strong.
In the hands of the
Women of Prajwala
who survived the onslaught
of the ugliness of humanity,
even a piece of hard wood
takes shape of
decorative dancing aid.
And the covering
Sachets so soft
showing the world
the strength of soft smiles
enveloping
a determined mind
that not just survives
but Sustains and
celebrates

https://www.ted.com/talks/sunitha_krishnan_tedindia
http://inktalks.com/discover/185/sunitha-krishnan-a-year-after-tedindia

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