I stumbled upon Shyam’s contact information last summer in my search to decide what I should be doing after graduate school, and what I wanted to be doing. I knew I would be heading to India and Nepal – the epicenter of human trafficking, but had no definitive plans of what I would be doing once I got there. Shyam and I sent emails to each other over the summer, and he told me about an organization he had started in the Kathmandu Valley, Samrakshak Samuha Nepal (SASANE), meaning “Protection Group Nepal.” The organization seeks to provide training programs to women who are survivors of gender-based violence, often women who have been trafficked internally and across borders into India for the sex-trade.
Shyam spent 18 years as a lawyer and special court superintendent for the Nepalese Supreme Court. He saw trafficked, unrepresented girls and women pass in and out of the legal system, with limited to no resources, on a daily basis. While working closely with an international non-governmental organization that dealt with human trafficking, he was confronted with a moment of conflict when he was forced to question the validity and impact of the work they were conducting. Many of the survivors that he talked to expressed that even though they had been helped to escape the cycle of trafficking, they continued to feel disempowered and stigmatized. The organization provided a route out of the cycle, but no alternatives to the sex-trade at the exit point.
In the fall of 2007, a group of survivors attempted to contact the organization’s director in hopes of expressing their insights and ideas for programs provided, a request that was refused. Trying to address this with the board of directors in the hopes of a redeemable explanation, Shyam chose to leave out of protest and start an organization with these women, initiating their thoughts and ideas. His primary goal was to reach out to survivors and empower them to run an organization themselves and provide sustainable, meaningful employment to fully escape the cycle. He tapped into his life savings, quit his job, and committed himself to those that had impacted him.
Shyam partnered with survivors to establish SASANE. He then would start a training program that would send over 150 women to be trained and certified as paralegals. Understanding that corruption within the legal system is one of the greatest issues that Nepal faces, he connected the newly certified paralegals to be employed within the policing system, reducing corruption at its source, and being an understanding, sympathetic, access to affordable legal representation for other women coming into the legal system. He has worked to develop partnerships with banks, local media outlets and schools to provide internships and scholarships for women who have been trafficked.
Shyam is a voice for people who don’t have a voice. In 2008, he won a landmark case against police workers who had broken the law by arresting and attempting to fine a group of trafficked women forced into the exotic dance-trade. Had he not intervened, the traffickers of these women would have walked free. He is currently in a legal battle with seventeen officials that have been complicit in perpetuating trafficking of women in Nepal, which includes individuals within the police force and several Ministers in the government. He is currently working with the women at SASANE to develop a training course for survivors as broadcast journalists.
I feel lucky to have met Shyam for the person he is, and the insights I felt I gleaned from the time we spent together. In my opinion, Shyam is a true representative of a hero in this movement, not often stumbled upon in Nepal, but a bright change for the future.