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OM India - Fighting Ritualized Prostitution

Karissa Hurst
Hyderabad, India

            Our experience in India so far has been AMAZING. I hope this post doesn't echo Becky's thoughts on our time in Hyderabad too much. Working in the anti-human trafficking unit (AHTU) has been so eye opening and such a great experience. Most people think of commercial sexual exploitation when dealing with human trafficking, but the unit we are working in is much more specialized. The AHTU focuses on ritualized prostitution in the Hindu religion and a practice of dedicating Joginis to the goddess Yellama. Joginis are dedicated as temple prostitutes once they reach an age of maturity. Patrons (men in the community) can sponsor them and maintain ultimate "rights" to them above other temple worshippers. This practice is illegal in India, but as our boss told us, laws don't carry much weight in India. Our boss told us that the rule of law is developed, but the only use for the law is to keep the international community off their back about human rights violations.

            The interesting thing about our office is that they take an extremely unique approach to stopping the Jogini system in Hyderabad. The state in which we are staying is called Andhra Pradesh, and it has the worst Jogini problem in the country with over 16,000 Joginis still practicing. Dedications are still ongoing, and the cycle of ritualized prostitution continues. AHTU works to end the cycle of ritualized prostitution by stopping future generations from engaging in the practice. They currently have 15 girls, who are daughters of active Joginis, living in our shelter called Pratigya Bhavan. Becky and I have had a very hands-on role in the girls' lives and spend our afternoons tutoring them and mentoring them as they adjust to their new way of life. By giving them a proper education and healthcare, AHTU is eliminating their "need" to enter into a life of prostitution. While many human rights organizations focus on immediate rescue and after care, it is refreshing to work for an organization that is focusing on long-term, sustainable change. 

            While our job has been somewhat undefined, we are encouraged to contribute in any way that we can. We have had an opportunity to interact with the girls in the shelter a lot, they even call us "auntie" in Telugu. We have done research about organization progress over the last year and written grants to get more funding from international aid organizations. It has been fun to use my undergraduate education in non-profit management to help AHTU with their fundraising and strategic planning.  They had a great need for grant writers and researchers, so we feel like we have made a tangible difference in the organization this summer.

            Additionally, we have built upon and made use of, the research that the Pepperdine Law students did last summer. They really value the work that Pepperdine students contribute and appreciate the relationship we have with them. Our co-workers still talk about Tracey and Alyssa and the amazing work they did last summer. We feel so blessed to be continuing Pepperdine's relationship with the Dalit Freedom Network and are hopeful that our work this summer will really help in their mission to stop the Jogini system in Andhra Pradesh.