Sunitha Krishnan can raise $100,000 (Rs 4.7 million) in 20 minutes and she did it on Friday.
General secretary of Prajwala, an organisation that rescues and rehabilitates women and children sold for sex work, Krishnan was one of the speakers on Day Two of the TED (technology, entertainment, design) conference.
The hardest part of her job was not rescuing the children — some as young as 3 — but bringing them back into the mainstream, where they face social stigma, she said.
“It’s nice to talk about human trafficking in an AC hall. But it isn’t nice when a child who has been rescued wants a place in your community.”
“I sometimes worry that Prajwala is a bad thing for my children.” A friend, who donated for Prajwala regularly, didn’t want to consider a rescued girl as housekeeper, though she desperately needed one.
Schools reject Prajwala children outright, afraid that they might be HIV positive.
“My biggest problem is not the mafia, it’s civil society,” said Krishnan, who is 40 but looks much younger.
Prajwala focuses on women and children from Andhra, though Krishnan has rescued them from brothels all over. They are brought to one of the seven shelters set up near Hyderabad.
Krishnan estimates she’s rescued more than 3,000 girls.
With organised gangs involved, Krishnan’s had some brush-ins. “In another two or three years I’ll be gone.”
Gangs have offered Rs 6-7 millions to see her dead. She has been beaten up many times and has left her deaf in an ear.
Mukul Deora was to take stage after her for electronic music performance. “I feel like we need a moment of silence…,” he said. Krishnan’s talk moved the audience as well: they donated more than $100,000 for Prajwala, which needs donations to keep its centres going.
In the spirit of TED conference, which began as a meet on technology and design 25 years ago but has since included more fields, other speakers of the day included actor Abhay Deol, filmmaker Shekhar Kapur and Shukla Bose, who has set up schools for poor. Kavita Ramdas, director of non-profit Global Fund for Women, spoke about women activists who advance the cause of women’s rights through religion and tradition.