The following blogpost is a product of ‘Expressions‘ which is Dr. Pravin Patkar’s blog.

I was on my way to Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, Uttan village in Bhayander, when I saw the board ‘अनैतिक मानवी वाहतूक प्रतिबंधक कक्ष’ (Anti Human Trafficking Cell). As the car was in motion, I had a fleeting glance of the board; it left me enthralled. I decided to take a photograph on my way back, which I did.

I had just finished a training session on human trafficking for a group of 30 youthful political activists from across India as a part of their 9-month long training program. The session started by analyzing the common regional terms for human trafficking such as Manav Taskari, meaning theft or smuggling of humans; it is not the same as human trafficking. From among the various colloquial terms available for trafficking, after considerable thinking and discussions, I had chosen the Marathi term ‘Vahatuk’(वाहतूक). Over time, I had defended the term fiercely on various platforms.

The Prerana Anti-Trafficking Center (Prerana ATC) was the first civil society organization in India to conduct sensitization and training for police officials on human trafficking. At that time, even the Home Ministry or Police Commissionerates hadn’t ventured into conducting such trainings. Of these, the maximum number of sensitization and training programs were organized in Mumbai’s neighboring Thane district. I also recall that Prabodhini had organized a training program for the elected representatives of the nearby municipal corporations and councils. A young and dynamic police officer Ms. Archana Tyagi, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mumbai, had been transferred as the Superintendent of Police Thane rural. Having observed our training programs, she immediately lined up some for the rural police.

As a key member of an organization working so deeply in the field of Human Trafficking at policy level, and as an academician, I have always been keen on conceptual clarity and sanitization of terms. In my opinion, these are very important steps in building a movement against any social problem. Terms represent reality, hence wrong terms misrepresent reality. Thus, the diagnosis, treatment and outcome are not what is expected.

In this light, the Prerana ATC team stressed on using ‘Manavi Vahatuk’ as a Marathi term for human trafficking. So, when I saw the board using this term in an official light, we were happy that it found its place in the administrative language.

At Prerana, we consistently strive to refine the terms. An example for this is when we introduced the term Commercial Sexual Exploitation to better represent Prostitution. The first national policy on child trafficking released by Govt. of India in 1998 introduced this term in its very opening page. That was a reflection of our success.

Yet another term to find its place in mainstream usage was ‘Post Rescue Operation’ (PRO). We were the first to use PRO for referring to the gamut of required interventions for rescue. The Prerana ATC was also the first to introduce the term VOCSET (Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation & Trafficking) as a replacement for ‘prostitute’. It changed the approach of how the government and change makers viewed prostituted women.

Our network members worked hard to use VOCSET despite an aggressive opposition by the organizations promoting the term ‘Sex Work’. Today, many state governments use VOCSET.

We also introduced the term ‘prostituted women’ as a substitution to the referent ‘prostitute women’ as the two represented contradicting realities.

At Prerana, we understand the need for breaking myths and misrepresentations around human trafficking. Our resource portal is a crucial step in this direction. Additionally, we are on our way to create a dictionary of sanitized terms appropriate for usage in the Anti-Human Trafficking space with the intention to demystify human trafficking.”

About Author:
Dr. Pravin Patkar, Co-Founder & Director of Prerana (India’s leading and pioneering anti-trafficking civil society organization), Retired Faculty TISS, Ex. Professor-Amrita University, ex Vice Chairperson ECPAT International, and Fulbright Scholar (Fulbright Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Fellow 2015-2016, in residence at University of Rhode Island, USA).

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