Tyler Dewar sent us the following report from TEDIndia the night before His Holiness the Karmapa took the stage there.
There have been a great many moving and inspiring presentations so far at the first-ever TEDIndia conference, currently underway at the Infosys campus in Mysore, India. But none, in this observer’s opinion, have stirred the heart more than the words and energy of Sunitha Krishnan, the founder of Prajwala India, an organization devoted to rescuing girls and young women from human trafficking and sexual slavery. Not only does Prajwala rescue girls from the horrors of kidnapping and forced prostitution (an ongoing scourge of the world that Ms. Krishnan identified as the third largest form of organized crime and a multi-billion dollar industry), it also focuses on prevention, rehabilitation, and reintegration.
But I’m not writing this post to run through a checklist of the goals of an organization. Rather, I’d like to share an incredible moment.
Sunitha Krishnan brought the house down in Mysore today. And by that, I mean that she broke hearts and moved people to action. The audience listened painfully to some of the stories of the more than 3,200 girls she has rescued, girls who had endured unimaginable torture and yet, somehow, nevertheless found the will to heal and thrive. She spoke of the need for everyone to overcome silence about the phenomenon of human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, and for us not only to offer our love and compassion to its victims, but to be willing to accept them in our communities. She admitted that rescuing girls is never a very safe business, sharing that she can no longer hear out of her right ear, and that she has been beaten up during interventions more than a dozen times. Her strong voice and powerful body language ensured that no one could claim to have misunderstood her points.
During her post-presentation interview with TEDIndia’s co-host, Lakshmi Pratury, Ms. Krishnan had just finished describing a wish for Prajwala to have permanent property to establish its headquarters in India (due to social stigmatization, Prajwala is charged extraordinarily high rent for office and work space). At that moment, a woman (whose name I will try to report here when I find it) called out from the audience, “Excuse me. I’d like to give ten thousand [US] dollars. Could I please have eight other hands of people who will also give ten thousand dollars?” Several hands sprung to the air within seconds. Ms. Pratury, later in the day, would also report that Google had pledged to offer employment to some of Ms. Krishnan’s rescuees, and that at least $100,000 in donations to Prajwala had been pledged.
From a Buddhist perspective, I think that the reaction that Ms. Krishnan’s speech elicited captures what some Buddhist teachers have described as “unbearable compassion.” It’s called “unbearable” not because it’s necessarily an unpleasant feeling per se, but because the suffering to which this compassion bears witness leaves us with no choice but to immediately respond in any way we can to help a hurting being.
A voice can light a spark. Today in India, it certainly did. For the girls and young women who are still trapped in the dark spaces of human trafficking, here’s to hoping (and ensuring) that these flames will continue to grow.
To learn more about the work of Sunitha Krishnan, please visit the website of her organization, Prajwala India.
UPDATE: Commenter Nitin Rao informs us that “The woman who called out from the audience [with an offer of ten thousand dollars to support Sunitha’s work] was TED Fellow, Rose Shuman, who runs QuestionBox.”