Odanadi, Which Began After Its Founders’ Unplanned Encounter With A Sex Worker, Is A Go-To Place For Those In Distress
Two young reporters on an assignment to cover the plight of horse carriage drivers in Mysuru for a local daily in 1990s ran into a dishevelled, drunk sex worker who unleashed a barrage of invective at them.
Empathetic to the woman’s plight, the two sought to rehabilitate her only to run into a twisted and prejudiced official machinery. That was when Stanly Verghese and ML Parashuram decided to do all they could do to rehabilitate sexually exploited women and children who were consigned to the margins of society.
Nearly three decades down the line, Stanly and Parashuram’s NGO Odanadi Seva Samsthe is the go-to place for women and children in distress across Karnataka. Odanadi has rescued 5,000 women and children who were forced into sex work from Mysuru and other places in the state.
“We have rehabilitated 2,850 women and children,” says Parashuram. “What is heartening is that many families have come forward and finalised marriage alliances for their boys with girls housed in our facilities. We have had nearly 100 such marriages,” he reveals.
Odanadi’s twin facilities -- one for girls and one for boys – house 80 individuals. The NGO is handled by 24 staff, including three professional counsellors. The NGO spends Rs 3 lakh a month to take care of them.
Besides alerting police about brothels and facilitating raids, Odanadi’s doors are kept open to women and children facing sexual exploitation.
The NGO counsels the women and children approaching it, helps them seek legal recourse, houses them and focuses on educating or upskilling them till they are mainstreamed. According to Stanly, the NGO has adopted three ‘R’s — rescue, rehabilitate and reintegrate — with the society in its mission.Odanadi in Kannada means a companion, who accepts the person unconditionally and walks along with the person like a shadow, Stanly points out.
The duo first began by taking care of children of sex workers and also rehabilitating the women in a rented house. Activist-theatre director Prasad Kundur, who has known Stanly and Parashuram for four decades, recalls the threats they were up against. “They faced threats from all sides: police, anti-social elements and the underworld. They risked their lives fighting for the sexually exploited,” Kundur says.
The societal scorn sex workers and their children faced rubbed off on Odanadi and its founders too. There were complaints made to the income-tax authorities that the two were raising money in the name of social service. An IT probe ensued and the officer steering the investigation was appalled at the sorry state of Odanadi’s finances. “The officer asked us to apply for a site. Soon, with help from donors we built the rehab centre, especially to cater to the needs of children, at the site that belonged to Odanadi,” Parashuram says.
Kundur says that things have changed and civil society is largely supportive of Odanadi’s endeavours now.
Odanadi’s reputation is now known in every nook and corner of the state. When two girls fleeing alleged sexual harassment from Murugha Mutt seer Shivamurthy Swami in Chitradurga landed in Bengaluru recently, they were guided by an autorickshaw driver to approach Odanadi. Stanly and Parashuram took the girls under their wings, counselled them and stood by them till the law took it course.
When TOI visited ‘Madilu’, the NGO’s rehab centre at Hotagalli on the outskirts of Mysuru, Stanly was busy drafting a letter to the Mysuru police seeking security to inmates and the staff of Odanadi in the aftermath of the high-profile Murugha Mutt case. “These are the perils of fighting for the voiceless and children,” Stanly, now 54, says, asserting that after three decades of struggle they have got used to it.
Stanly and Parashuram met during a meeting of Janamana, which was a social organisation founded and promoted by youths focused on social ills in Mysuru. After completing his graduation at Kushalnagar in Kodagu district, Stanly came to Mysuru to study law.
They discussed constructive issues in Manasagangotri, the PG campus of the University of Mysore, where Parashuram did his MA in economics. Their other hangout was Parashuram’s rented room in Saraswathipuram.
Parashuram, who is a former member of the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, says they focus on behavioural issues of children they house at the facility and promote their education. It has helped them in their rehabilitation, he adds.
“The laws were against sex workers and they were treated like trash. In our three decades of struggle, it is this that we have tried to change. I believe we have set the wheel moving,” Stanly says.
Parashuram, whose mother was upset that he dumped his ambition to become a lecturer, to serve marginalised women and children, says that millions are affected by the flesh trade. Children and women are lured from Nepal and Bangladesh promising jobs, while in India it is children from poor families, mainly from rural areas, who are the target.