(These are the excerpts of an interview between Mr. Sanjay Macwan, Field Office Director, Mumbai International Justice Mission and HT’s Sarita Khisty)
HT: Thank you for talking to Harvest Times. First off, can you please tell us something about the beginnings of the IJM? Also what was the Biblical vision for the same?
SM: International Justice Mission is founded on the Biblical call for justice. We see hundreds of verses in the Scriptures that explain God’s character and desire for justice. Motivated by these Scriptures, the Church in centuries past has been involved in the fight for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised. Some prominent names would include William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr. or William Carey here in India and many others. In line with this rich tradition, Mr. Gary Haugen founded International Justice Mission (IJM) on a Biblical call to seek justice for the poor primarily from Isaiah 1:17; ‘Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow’. Gary Haugen’s personal experience as part of the team that investigated the Rwandan genocide opened his eyes to how urgent and necessary this call was. His study of scripture combined with his experiences in the field motivated him to found IJM with the aim to rescue thousands, protect millions and prove that justice for the poor is possible. IJM’s national teams of 500+ lawyers, social workers, caseworkers and community activists – the world’s largest international corps of national advocates providing direct service to victims of violence in the world – work within their communities to protect the poor from violence by rescuing victims from the hand of abuse, bringing criminals to justice, restoring sex trafficking survivors to safety and strength, and helping local law enforcement build a safe future that lasts. Basically, we work on behalf of the marginalized and vulnerable, supporting local law agencies to bring justice and establish rule of law in the nations. Moreover, our team relies on a strong belief in the power of prayer; drawing strength and wisdom from God.
HT: Many Christian charity organizations focus on relief work. Secular charities focus on enforcing international and national laws like maybe RTI activists etc. But IJM seems to be filling in the gaps between the bonded and ensuring that these laws actually work. Can you talk to us about the work being done here in India by IJM?
SM: Pursuing justice for the poor is a different way in which to approach bringing God’s Kingdom in the world. As I mentioned before, it is not a new idea as Christians like William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King Jr. have built their missions on such a foundation. Human Rights Watch estimates that there are 4 crore people forced into bonded labour in India and though the law bans such practices the perpetrators continue to oppress the poor and vulnerable. Our Chennai and Bangalore offices assist the local government to rescue and provide all the necessary help for restoration to the victims of bonded labour. To date we have rescued 5000+ people from bonded labor. CBI estimates that 1.2 million children are sexually exploited in India. While Indian law prohibits such exploitation, the crime continues to persist as poverty and hunger haunt vulnerable people. Our Mumbai and Kolkata offices rescue girls from sex trafficking and provide them justice, healing and restoration through our comprehensive intervention. We do this by supporting the government to actually bring rescue to people who are trapped as bonded laborers or have been trafficked into the sex trade. We provide long-term aftercare services ourselves or partner with other local organizations that provide these critical services. We support public prosecutors in their efforts to hold the perpetrators of these crimes accountable under Indian law, so that they are no longer free to harm others, helping to transform entire communities so that poor people can sustainably count on protection from violence. For all our work we partner with the local, public justice systems to ensure it works for the poor. In Chennai, last week we rescued 91 families from bonded labor. In such cases, people from poor villages of Orissa, Bihar, etc. are promised a financially sustainable future and brought to the city to work in rice mills, brick kilns or in rock quarries. Slowly all of these promises are eroded as they find themselves caught as bonded laborers for the rest of their lives. It is tragic but true that this happens in modern day India. Fortunately it is also true that IJM is able to partner with the local government to rescue and provide these victims with a better future. In this particular case our Chennai team worked with the local authorities to rescue 91 families stuck in such brutal conditions, freeing 283 people in all. There is a better tomorrow for these people as freedom and hope enter into their lives for the first time. Similarly, 2 days back, we rescued 9 girls from Mumbai who were forced into commercial sexual exploitation. To date our Mumbai office has rescued nearly 500 girls from sex trafficking. These girls are tricked and promised good jobs in the big cities. Traffickers use emotional manipulation or drug girls in order to get them to come to Mumbai. Once in the city they sell them into sexual slavery. There are hundreds of thousands of girls trapped in such horrible circumstances. They are forced, abused and beaten if they try to refuse to do this kind of work. IJM assists the police to rescue such girls, prosecute the perpetrators of the crime and support the efforts that rehabilitate survivors. The practice of Biblical justice is embedded in love that prevents exploitation and punishes those who perpetrate it. I think that such an approach to assist the local government agencies to bring about justice for the poor and vulnerable is necessary because as Christians, we understand that God gives authority and we as people ensure that such authority works for the poor. Removing people from situations of exploitation and providing them with hope is a way to restore their God-given dignity and re-establish their intrinsic value as human beings.
HT: Can you elaborate on the IJM method of working? Don’t you face a resistant, unco-operative attitude from the local authorities? How do you get the work done?
SM:We work in collaboration with the government agencies that enforce laws and do justice for those who are facing violent injustice. Yes, in India we do face many challenges when it comes to protecting people from exploitation, prosecuting criminals and successfully rehabilitating survivors. However, we have been successful in supporting the police and prosecution in doing justice for those who are trafficked and victimized. And, there are many good officers dedicated to doing good work and building a justice system that works. Just so that your readers get motivated please note that the public justice system is improving and we are witnessing that the police is becoming more sensitive and proactive. IJM Mumbai office alone has helped the prosecution get 63 convictions in sex trafficking cases. We are happy to see many girls going back to their homes or working in safe environments to support themselves. Many families that have been rescued from bonded labor are now back in their villages earning sustainable incomes.
HT: You spoke earlier about how these people are victims and not criminals. In such a case, how do you rehabilitate these victims?
SM: Social adjustment, psychological needs and overall development are all complicated for a sex trafficking survivor. When these girls are newly rescued, they are almost like dead bodies: their eyes are often vacant as they have been drained of their humanity through years of abuse. Immediately after we bring them out, physically, mentally and emotionally, they are not ready for any kind of restoration. We start walking beside them when they are in this place of brokenness. God really moves until, in a short span of time, a year or maybe two, the signs of restoration can be seen as they transform into beautiful creatures. Of course, the challenges on this road to restoration are multi-faceted. The government agencies are still struggling to have qualified, skilled and passionate people to take care of these survivors. The social services sector struggles to find sufficient funding. Within this limited setup, we at IJM try to bring in our resources and skill sets to work with local authorities. Working with both government and private aftercare homes, we strive to ensure that victims are restored.
HT: In this visible confrontation with evil, what motivates you to keep up the fight and not run away?
SM: We have a very strong emphasis on personal, spiritual transformation, which is based in the Bible and in the very character of God. We draw our motivation from God Himself; He loves justice. There are about 2000+ verses in Scripture which talk about poverty and injustice. We have consciously decided to embrace God’s call to better understand His character of justice, which asks us to do justice for others as a central act of worship in our lives. Being indifferent or ignorant to injustice and violent abuse is not an option for us, and we encourage other Christians to take up this call as well. We require volunteers for our rescue operations, allowing the perfect opportunity for Christians from the community to come and partner with us. In almost all of our rescue operations (157 so far), Christians have partnered with us. We have had people ask us afterwards what more they can do to help. I have also noticed how the people who have experienced the most suffering in their lives are the ones who are most ready to come forward. When confronting evil, we do so knowing who God is and with the support of unceasing prayer.
HT: If the Churches or individuals want to volunteer with you or support IJM, how should they contact you? What kind of training would you provide to them?
SM: First off, as I said before, pray for us. You can also volunteer to help us during rescue operations. Finally I would say: be vigilant in your own community. This is God’s world, people are God’s creation and we need to protect those who are vulnerable and marginalized. We do witness issues of child sexual abuse, rape, and verbal and physical abuse of women and girls. I would encourage Christians to always to be vigilant and sensitive toward these issues of abuse and exploitation. I would also say that churches can allocate a portion of their budget to support acts of relief for victims of such injustice. I believe churches are responsible for the communities that they are embedded in. In sum, pray for us. I believe without prayers the work of justice is almost impossible. Come forward to volunteer for a rescue operation. And, if you want to serve in aftercare homes then please contact us. I would also encourage qualified Christian lawyers, social workers and other such professionals to take this call and come forward to work with us to Seek Justice. – Harvest Times for Your Family July 2013/Volume 10 Issue 7