The difference between percep- tion and reality, one of the great challenges that Rotary India has been battling with, was conveyed when Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Sanjay Gandhi disclosed at a Rotary meet in Delhi, “There was a time when I used to be annoyed with Rotary for merely being a sewing-machine-distribution- centre — you give the sewing machine and with no affordability to buy materials, I would wonder in what way the machines are going to help the poor. They would only sell the machines and use the money. But today you do amazing work!”
This change in her perception and recognition of Rotary’s “amazing work” came at a recent meet in Delhi to present Rotary India awards. These awards have been conferred annually for the past 22 years by the Rotary Awards for Service to Humanity (India) Trust. This year’s theme was to recognise organisations and individ- uals working towards ‘educating and empowering children of sex workers.’
The jury comprising former Chief Justice of India R C Lahoti, journalist H K Dua, former Assistant Secretary General of UN Virendra Dayal and classical dancer Sonal Mansingh, chose Prajwala and Prerana from the 30 nominations, as the winners of this year’s Rotary India Award.
Prajwala, a Hyderabad-based NGO, rescues, rehabilitates and rein- tegrates sex-trafficked victims into mainstream society. It believes in ‘prevention through education’ and is actively involved in providing basic education, vocational training, life- skills and often organises marriage alliances for the rescued girls/women. Started in 1996 with 5 children, today it is a lifeline for 5,000 children. Its co-founder, Dr Sunitha Krishnan, received the award — a cheque for Rs 500,000 and a citation — from Maneka Gandhi.
In her acceptance speech Sunitha came down vehemently on the flesh trade. “I do not want to use the words, ‘sex worker,’ as there is no profession as ‘sex work.’ I feel it is ‘sexual slav- ery.’ The youngest child I’ve rescued from prostitution is a 3-year-old! It is shocking to find that around 30 lakh children and young women are sold as sexual slaves today,” she said.
Referring to her ‘Shame the Rapist’ campaign that is making headlines these days, Sunitha said that the campaign was intended to expose the faces of the rapists who were uploading videos of the heinous act on Whatsapp. “That’s the kind of impunity these offenders enjoy. It is high time we stop talking about how to bring up our daughters and concentrate on how to bring up our sons,” she thundered.
Thanking Rotary India for putting focus on this crucial area, she said, “This also makes us feel that we’re not alone and you are with us. Let us join together and initiate proactive measures on a war footing to curb this menace,” concluded Sunitha.
The Mumbai-based organisa- tion, Prerana, was conferred a Spe- cial Commendation by the Jury. RI Director P T Prabhakar presented the award comprising prize money of Rs 200,000 and a citation to Preethi Iyer, Project Director, and Mughda Dandekar, who represented the organisation.
Prerana implements a compre- hensive education programme in Mumbai’s red light areas. Its three Night Care Centres are safe havens for children of women living in these areas, providing them protec- tion from the dangerous influences of the neighbourhood during the dark hours. The NGO first set foot in Kamathipura, a red light area in Mumbai, in 1986 and noticed that despite there being a well-equipped Municipal School, children of com- mercial sex workers (CSWs) were not attending school.
Girl children eventually got inducted into the sex trade while boys resorted to pimping and peddling activities. So Prerana decided to provide educational sup- port to the children at the schools in the red light areas of Mumbai. “Edu- cation liberates children from such flesh trade and they will be better equipped for a decent future which will ultimately promote economic sustenance,” said Preethi.
Inaugurating the meet, Chairman of the Trust and PRID Ashok Mahajan, provided a glimpse into the history of the Awards programme, and the Trust which was founded by PRIP Rajendra K Saboo in 1991 “to recognise organisations and individuals for their excellence in social involvement. Ever since the first award was presented to the Avinashilingam Institute for Home Science and Higher Education, Coimbatore, for its exemplary service of promoting literacy, it has come a long way, recognising and motivating individuals and organisations in areas such as family planning, pollution control, elimination of child labour, women’s empowerment, health and sanitation,” he said.
Referring to this year’s theme, he said, “To many children living in the slums and streets as orphans, the celebration of ‘Children’s Day’ has no significance. When a child is born to a CSW, it faces ostracism and condemnation.”
“Curbing human trafficking is one of my Ministry’s primary goals,” said Maneka Gandhi, and elaborated on plans to check the menace, includ- ing displaying neon posters on child helpline in trains, promoting the web portal Khoyapaya which allows par- ents and others to register details of missing children. Her Ministry also plans to use Twitter to connect the lost child with the family.
“Rotary will be happy to con- nect with you, wherever you work for women and children rehabili- tation,” was the response of PRIP Kalyan Banerjee to the awardees. PRID Sudarshan Agarwal, the first chairman of the Trust, paid rich trib- utes to PRID O P Vaish who served as the Trust’s Chair from 2007 until his death in September 2013. PRID Y P Das, Vice Chair of the Trust, conducted the ceremony with elan. Saboo, Founder-Chair of the Trust, said. “The cause we champion today is significant and the need of the hour.” TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta participated in the meet hosted by RC Rohtak, D 3011. DG Sanjay Khanna, D 3010, Rtn Ravinder Gugnani, were also present.