By Tarra Quismundo for thePhilippine Daily Inquirer on August 31, 2013—”Two women were taken from their homes when they were in their teens, drugged and smuggled into India to work in Mumbai brothels.
Today, Laxmi Puri, 27, and Surita Danuwar, 30, laugh and smile freely, savoring their moment of great triumph as their group, the Shakti Samuha (Power Group) was named among this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Awardees for turning personal tragedy into a collective story of survivors fighting and watching out for each other.
The group organizes survivors of human trafficking who are usually shunned after their ordeal for being “soiled” women, and provides them state-funded shelters, counseling, education and livelihood training.
“Other people work for other people’s rights. But we work for our rights. That’s the difference,” said Danuwar, who is the organization’s president and one of its founders.
“The feelings and difficulties of survivors can only be understood by survivors themselves. No other person can feel how we feel,” said Puri, treasurer of this top Nepalese antitrafficking group.
Rescued from brothels
Both Puri and Danuwar were among the 300 other Nepali girls rescued in a massive police raid of Indian brothels in 1996. But though the rescue freed them from their abusers, they found themselvs “kept in harsh semidetention” for months as their repatriation suffered delays, according to the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation (RMAF).
Nothing changed once they were back in their homeland, as both the government and their families disowned them, seeing them as “soiled women.” It was then that the women realized they had no one to turn to but themselves.
Fit for ‘easy jobs’ only
The survivors, aged 15 to 18 at the time, decided to form themselves into Shakti Samuha, a “power group” reaching within themselves to overcome the systemic stigma on trafficked women and start their lives anew.
Initially, their government did not appreciate the intrepid move. Recalled Danuwar: “In the beginning, when we tried to register our organization, government people would look at us from head to toe and tell us ‘oh, you are so young, and you don’t have any education and you are also looking beautiful. So you can go and work in restaurants or massage parlors or find easy jobs.’”
They were denied accreditation at first, but the women were determined to get their government’s attention. For four years, they lobbied, held survivors’ conferences, spoke in public fora and made the media rounds to talk about their plight.
“We attended our national level forum and said that our government didn’t give us permission to work in society,” Danuwar said. “The survivors also organized survivors’ conferences.” The pressure eventually compelled the government to accredit the group. In 2000, Shakti Samuha became a full-fledged, state-registered antitrafficking organization, reluctantly recognized by the government.
The women’s group now stands as the first nongovernment organization formed and run by trafficking survivors, who are working to make a dent in the multibillion dollar human trafficking industry that persists in many parts of the world, including the Philippines.”
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