KOCHI: The transgender community of Kerala is on cloud nine. The reason is because the Kochi Metro is conferring jobs on 23 of them.
Those selected have undergone a month-long training session at the Rajagiri College, Kakkanad. Five of them, who have degrees, will be working at the ticket counter, while the rest will be in the house-keeping department.
“This is a big leap especially when the existing system in the country is least favourable to us. We are looking forward to opportunities in other government ventures like the Kannur International Airport and Smart City,” said Sheetal Shyam, a transgender activist who has got a job in the house-keeping department.
It is clear after speaking with a few of them that they are excited. But, at the same time, they have a few apprehensions. “At this moment, there are no accommodation facilities. We won’t get a place in hostels and are forced to live in lodges which cost up to Rs 800 per day,” said Navas, an executive member of Marwell, a Community Based Organisation (CBO). But the state government has taken some initiatives.
This is our golden age: Vincy
Hailing from Angamali, Vincy completed BA Economics from the Sree Shankaracharya University. An executive member of Marwell, Vincy was a Field Officer and Counsellor at Pehchan, a project funded by The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, from 2011 to 2016. Once the project ended, the 35-year-old lost her job and was struggling to make ends meet. It was then that she secured a job at the Metro, where she will be working at the ticket counter.
“Getting a government job was something which we could only dream of. This is our golden age. We are being accepted at many places. We hope at least the next generation will be able to live in peace, facing no discrimination,” says Vincy. She is expecting other companies to hire transgenders once they are introduced to society through the Metro.
Vincy had to go through several episodes of discrimination. Last year, she was arrested and had to spend two weeks in Viyyur Central Jail. “Some members of our community had a fight with a few hijras (eunuchs) as they were trying to extort money from the public. I went to the police station to file a complaint, as I was the community counsellor,” she said. “Instead, the police arrested me.”
Interestingly, Vincy hasn’t revealed her identity at home. She is already under pressure for piercing her ears, wearing makeup and not getting married. “I like going home but it is hard when you are always mocked by your male friends. So, I rarely go home now,” she said.
I don’t want my mother to face the consequences: Amrutha
Amrutha is trying her hardest to save money. Back home, her mother’s health is going from bad to worse. They live in a rented house at Kochi. Amrutha wears a shirt and trousers when she goes home, as she doesn’t want her mother to face the consequences of being a parent to a transgender.
She was forced to discontinue her studies after Class 9, as her father left them. She had to bear the responsibility of looking after the family. She used to beg on trains and dance at road shows. Amrutha will be employed at the house-keeping department. She is happy, for she would be able to meet her mother’s medical expenses with her regular income.
Like others, she is worried about the lack of accommodation. “Other states, like Tamil Nadu, have got a well-maintained system to accommodate members of the community. It would be of great help if our state government could find a similar way since the rents charged by the lodges are beyond our reach.”
There are other issues, too. For example, society looks down on transgenders when they opt for sex work. “They isolate us thinking that all transgenders are sex workers. But none of them ask why we do so,” she said.
I will no longer be fired from work: Sherin Antony
Sherin is a school dropout. “I was fed up of my classmates and teachers mocking me,” she says. So, she discontinued her studies and started to work at petrol pumps and later in a few hotels. She was fired when others at work came to know about her gender identity.
“Now I need not fear about losing my job because of my identity as my new employers are aware of it,” says Sherin, who will be working at the house-keeping department.
She is lucky in that the family supports her. The 18-year-old from Veli, Fort Kochi has just returned after taking her mother to hospital when we met her. Sherin now shares a rented room with Jasmine, her friend. The room costs them Rs 9,000 per month. She has been looking for a house to live in but nobody was ready to rent her one. “People confuse us with the hijras of the northern states and hence refuse us accommodation. They fear we will cause trouble,” she says.
Though Sherin is delighted about her new job, she is worried about the attitude of passengers, as society is yet to display an openness to accept transgenders.
I will reveal my identity once I start working: Jasmine
Jasmine wanted to join a regular college and make lot of friends. She joined a college in Kochi for BSc Botany. She had to discontinue her studies after her classmates isolated her. But she never gave up hope. She enrolled herself for the BA Sociology open course at Mahatma Gandhi University. She graduated and later worked along with Vincy as an executive member of Marwell. She is very proud to say that, with the help of Marwell, she could stop 23 transgenders from going into sex work.
On her part, Jasmine has done many odd jobs. “I used to work as a sales person. But people are prejudiced so I am unable to get better positions. Though I am educated I never got promoted while my juniors at work did,” says Jasmine, who will be employed at the ticket counter.
Jasmine’s family is not aware of her gender identity. When her brother started getting doubts about Jasmine’s physique he encouraged her to go to the gym. But Jasmine says there is no use pretending. “I can talk openly with my friends in the community. I can never be open with my male and female friends. I am happy here than at home,” she said.
Jasmine is planning to reveal her gender identity at home once she starts working at the Metro.