After the sunset, they appear spooky in the flash of car headlights from the dark sidewalks of Sion-Panvel highway in Mumbai. Dressed in bright shiny outfits and loud make up – they go about their regular business of sex trade post evening in these areas. During the day we see them begging in local trains, traffic signals or market areas. Sometimes they are seen dancing at the event of childbirth or wedding at someone’s house. Like the natural surroundings in our world, we have accepted them this way for ages – keeping an aloof and apathetic distance and never sparing a thought into the travails of their lives. We have always looked at the transgender people with contemptuous awe. We have always considered them as aliens from an unknown world existing obscurely in the creepy crevices of our society that we chose to hugely ignore.
Therefore a couple of months back, a visit to this Trans Empowerment Mela called Anandi Anand Gade 2016, organised by a NGO Anam Prem at Borivali (West) in Mumbai, pleasantly surprised me at the possibility of the transgender community people trying small scale entrepreneurship in pursuit of a better, more dignified way of financial self-reliance, otherwise unthought-of.
Individuals and groups from the transgender community from across the country had put up stalls and displayed and sold variety of items from food, to handmade décor, clothes, bags and accessories, beauty and grooming services, catering, so and so forth. They also put up some well-choreographed dance recitals.
The entire effort was very refreshing. The hope and energy were palpable.
Agarbatti counter at Anandi Anand Gade
However, when delved deeper, this hope and energy seemed distraught with several hurdles at many socio-economic levels. If resolved, it can prove as a boon to the hijra and Transgender (TG) people living a cursed life for ages. It would also help tap a vast untapped productive human resource amongst the TG community.
Urmi Jadav, herself a hijra and the Research Assistant and TG Representative at Humsafar Trust, a renowned NGO founded by Ashok Row Kavi, working for the LGBT community shares a few facts that are detrimental to such efforts at achieving financial self-reliance and freedom from the vicious cycle of undignified life sustained through sex work and begging. The main problem is attitudinal amongst TG people. “For ages they have survived on their own outside the support system of main stream society. They have become so accustomed to the practice of working freely on their own wish, even if it is begging or sex work, and earning easy money through it that it is very difficult for them to conform to the discipline of corporate or other regular jobs. The pay scale also does not motivate them much as they have the option of earning much more through their traditional vocations, notwithstanding the risk of HIV AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and an insecure future”, says Urmi. Humsafar Trust needs people from the TG community itself to work on the field as outreach advocacy staff to spread awareness amongst TGs. But very few TG people agree to work for the cause on a not so handsome salary. They are also averse to commit themselves to time bound job and accountability.
Tamanna, a TG person from Chandigarh, who has managed to come out of the drudgery of an undignified life of begging or sex work, said, “Many a times the head of the clan a TG person belongs to does not allow her to pursue such efforts. The TG people mostly do not have the courage to defy their clan and risk being thrown out of it as they do not have the support of family or other social support to live safely in the mainstream society.” Tamannah saved money through stage shows and other odd jobs and completed a professional course of beautician from INFDI, Chandigarh and now runs a small beauty salon and boutique of her own. She has a 12 member strong staff at her beauty parlour and boutique.
Shabnam from Raipur, MP had joined a tailoring class as she was interested in fashion designing, but had to leave without completing the course as the other straight students of the class objected to her presence.
Vasavi, the secretary of Triveni Samaj Vikas Kendra, a NGO run by TG people in Malad, Mumbai, informs that a group of TG people from their NGO attended a training session into making chocolates and incense sticks. At the moment they sell those incense sticks inside the community. However to pursue it as a full-fledged business, they need some micro financing and marketing support. “Most of our people do not have access to legitimate ID proofs and banking facilities. They face serious problems in preserving or investing their hard earned money. They cannot keep the money at their slum homes for the fear of being stolen. Hence they are forced to entrust their money with the jewellers or other shop keepers and often get cheated by them,” informs Vasavi.
All of them rued about the absence of any government support of funding and vocational training specially designed for the TG community people. “Just the provision of identifying ourselves as the Third gender in official forms is not enough. In many cases the officials still refuse to accept us such as at RTOs and others. The government should provide us with free of cost vocational training under its skill development schemes and some micro financing support to start small scale business such as available for women and men’s group,” said Vasavi.
Urmi Jadav also says that there are some initiatives by a few corporate houses such as TCS and IBM to induct TG people in their workforce and these corporate houses do occasionally conduct awareness and sensitization programmes in association with Humsafar Trust and along with the TG people at their higher management level. But the need of the hour is intense sensitisation programmes to be conducted amongst the ground level staff with whom the TG people would ultimately share the work space, the cafeteria, and the washrooms. Radical change is required both in TG people’s attitude towards a healthier life as well as in mainstream people to recognise and accept them as normal human beings.
“TG people are mostly God gifted with rich imagination and talent in dance, music, art and craft. However there is serious dearth of opportunities to hone those talents,” complains Tamannah.
Wings Rainbow, a unique cab service driven by members of TG and Gay community from the house of Wings Travels cab service had been launched early this year in association with Humsafar Trust. Anam Prem, a NGO has also conducted several income generation programs for the TG people such as car cleaning, agarbatti making, mehendi and make up art.
These are a few sparks of hope that have just started illuminating the path of empowerment of TG community. The darkness of discrimination and deprivation is slowly alleviating. Reaching the light at the end of the tunnel is yet a long way to go, but not impossible.