Alice Sharma, speaks to Leena Kejriwal, the artist behind the public art project that throws light on the issue of child trafficking in cities across India
Chances are, you might have seen it—the large black silhouette of a girl plastered on walls across Delhi. This faceless silhouette is symbolic of all the girls that go missing in India and is the brainchild of Kolkata based photographer and installation artist, Leena Kejriwal, who through her project M.I.S.S.I.N.G talks about the issues of child trafficking.
48-year-old, Kejriwal, was discovering Kolkata through her lens and one day her explorations took her to the red light area in the city, “that experience never left me. The first brush with the ladies who had been through the trauma of sexual exploitation and girls who could be victim to second generation prostitution was intense.” After that, she started volunteering with several NGOs against child trafficking. It was during her initial days at one such NGO, she realised that so many people that she was working with, were eager to share their stories and had much to say. That made her realise that she, “wanted to create something which can speak to all men and women alike, cutting across language barriers. Something which made them sit up and takes notice of all that trafficked children go through.” It was then that she started the M.I.S.S.I.N.G project.
Each year in India tens of thousands of girls go missing in a country where an estimated 1.2 million children work in the sex industry. Many are abducted by commercial sex traffickers and forced into prostitution. Trafficking is the third largest criminal activity today and is considered highly profitable for the traffickers. The victims are treated as sex slaves and suffer dire emotional and psychological consequences because of the trade.
Kejriwal aims to draw attention to the subject through her larger than life silhouettes as she believes awareness plays an important part in prevention, “there has to be a continuous awareness amongst the adolescents and children as they are most vulnerable to it,” she tells sbcltr, “a lot of organisations focus more on areas post trafficking by offering, protection, prosecution and rehabilitation. Awareness then takes a backseat.”
M.I.S.S.I.N.G is an ode to all the girls who are vulnerable—silhouettes of adolescent girls, painted black, showing the dark holes of prostitution in which they disappear. The project has three layers, the first is art, in which Kejriwal installed huge steel installations at the India Art Fair to draw attention to the cause. The second part is perhaps the most important as it involves the community. It is a stencil project, under which anyone can print a stencil from the website to paint the girl silhouette across their own city and share it on social media with the hashtag #missinggirls. The third layer is the Missing: Game for a Cause, in which Kejriwal introduced a bleak game to generate awareness about the issue, “I wanted the player to step into the shoes of the trafficked victim and run from the traffickers. This has totally flummoxed the gaming community. Anyone who plays the game is bound to be uncomfortable and empathise,” she says. Last year in November, the game received the NASSCOM, Indie Game of the Year award. “It’s a quest for freedom. And through this role play, the player gets a glimpse of the dark world of sexual trafficking. It also helps us in studying the behavioural pattern of the gamers as they make choices within the game,” she says.
A Crowdfunding initiative, M.I.S.S.I.N.G is now run by the Missing Link Trust and has saved the lives of over 20 girls, bringing them back to their homes. The government recently came forward to be a part of the M.S.S.I.N.G stencil awareness campaign in three districts of West Bengal, validating the campaign and its innovative method even further.
Kejriwal now wants to work towards public art and help people empathise with her cause. “The Missing silhouettes of girls, when set against the sky are like black holes cut out into it. Holes into which millions of girls disappear from the face of the earth. They act as a constant reminder and at the same time, memorials for young girls who have been trapped in these dark holes,” she signs off.