Indien: Indrani Sinha

When I started in 1989, I did not have any role models from whom I could learn. Therefore, I learnt from the women in red-light areas through listening to their needs.

— Indrani Sinha

When a study on sexually abused children took Indrani Sinha (born 1950) to the brothel areas of Kolkata, the lives of the women there shook her to the core. From then on, she and Sanlaap (sanlaap means dialogue), the organization she set up, have been working to eliminate stigma, and to integrate women in prostitution and their children into mainstream society. While the setting up of safe homes and motivating government agencies have been significant victories, Indrani's greatest triumph is the fulfilling lives that the women in and from Sanlaap's shelter homes now lead.

Indrani Sinha began her career teaching, but soon realized that her interest lay in the development sector. A study she was conducting on sexually abused girls took her to Kolkata's infamous brothel areas and the suburbs, where she met hundreds of women and girls. Their stories about being tricked into prostitution, their afflicted health conditions, and the torture they endured shook Indrani up. In 1987, she started Sanlaap, an antitrafficking human rights center that focuses on mainstreaming rescued women and girls. Their economic rehabilitation includes vocational education, skill training, and collaboration with the corporate sector for jobs, volunteers, programs, and mainstream occupations. The Sanlaap shelter homes also house HIV+ girls, many of whom are not accommodated in state-run homes. Indrani's key strategy is collaboration. Already, Sanlaap has won considerable, even high-profile, victories against the system: the team's dedication has gradually shoveled away apathy in the judiciary, police, the youth of the red-light areas, and the administration. A government officer says, "We are interdependent. Sanlaap is solving many problems that government departments are unable to solve." The Sanlaap team, and Indrani herself, though, continue to face considerable personal jeopardy from the powerful prostitution mafia: the nexus of politicians, police, and traffickers is particularly malignant. The divide within the NGO sector on the issue of prostitution legalization has also taken its toll on Sanlaap. But Indrani is relatively content: the more than 600 girls who have come to the Sanlaap homes since 1989 lead productive and comfortable lives.