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Aggie fights human trafficking through traditional Indian dance

Megna+Murali%2C+Class+of+2018%2C+will+perform+a+self-choreographed+traditional+Indian+dance+in+Los+Angeles+on+Oct.+6+to+increase+awareness+of+human+trafficking.
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Megna Murali, Class of 2018, will perform a self-choreographed traditional Indian dance in Los Angeles on Oct. 6 to increase awareness of human trafficking.

Megna Murali, Class of 2018, uses her classical training in traditional Indian dance to raise awareness for human trafficking.
Murali will perform her production, “Jaagrata,” on Oct. 6 at the Art of Living LA Center in Los Angeles. Trained in both Bharatanatyam and Kathak styles of dance — traditional forms from South and North India, respectively — Murali has been performing “Jaagrata” since November 2017. All her show’s proceeds go to “Project Udaan,” an anti-trafficking organization providing rescued victims with shelter, education and medical assistance.
“Jaagrata” is a Kannada word meaning “consciousness” or “alert.”
“You notice how crazy this situation is, and this is happening everywhere all the time,” Murali said. “People just don’t care and it’s like ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Someone needs to wake up.”
The music in “Jaagrata” is composed by Sudha Raghuraman, an award-winning vocalist and composer who has recorded with professional musicians in New Delhi, India. Murali was intimately involved in the development of the score.
“It’s beautiful,” Murali said. “We have something called ‘raga’ — specific scales to match the kind of mood that I’m trying to show and the kind of emotions I’m trying to express that these girls went through.”
Murali became inspired to use her skills to support anti-trafficking organizations when she met Annu Subramanian, author of “Another Heaven,” a novel about the horrendous effects of human trafficking. Subramanian dedicated three years to researching and interviewing victims of trafficking.
“[Murali is] amazing,” Subramanian said. “She inspires me. When I go to speak here and there, I appeal to young people because they are our future, to consider embracing this project because they hold the future in their hands.”
In the summer of 2017, Murali traveled to Mumbai, India to teach English, computer skills and dance to trafficking survivors. On her trip, Murali partnered with You Can Free Us, a nonprofit that has been involved in the fight against human trafficking since 2010.
“It’s really intricate the way that you express emotions, how you make a piece, there’s just so much that goes into it,” Murali said. “I feel research isn’t the best way to do it, but to go and to work and to do some social work and to volunteer — that really helped me bring perspective into my art.”
While in Mumbai for a month and a half, Murali spent a week working with You Can Free Us director Kari Dingler, conducting dance therapy with a group of trafficking survivors.
“[The girls] just loved her as a friend,” Dingler said. “It’s really wrong because we’re just ordinary people and we know that they’re precious in the sight of God, but they see themselves as less than everyone else. … They just felt she was so affirming to them and so loving and it was just a huge blessing for us.”
Murali incorporates Surya, the Hindu sun god, into her performance’s ending. While Surya is commonly recognized at the beginning of traditional dances, Murali recognizes the sun god at the end to symbolize a new beginning for a broken society and its victims.
“Seeing those girls smile and happy and let go was beautiful,” Murali said. “My experience with them is profound.”
Murali will speak at a TedX event in Houston on Oct. 13. More information about You Can Free Us and Project Udaan can be found at campaign.youcanfree.us and projectudaan.org.

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