COIMBATORE: Even as Prithika Yashini is making history by becoming the first transgender police officer in the country, most people belonging to the group still have to suffer social stigma.
The Supreme Court ruling that recognised ‘transgender’ as the ‘third gender’ brought great relief to them in education and employment. However, they are yet to gain social acceptance.
Even their own families do not accept them, said Jeeva Rangaraj, founder and managing trustee of the Transgender Rights Association.
“There should be a law making parents responsible for taking care of transgender children. This would reduce the number of transgender children running away from home or being driven away by family members themselves,” she said.
The lack of family and financial support at the young age forces them to involve in begging or sex work.
The most common problem they face in cities is finding a place to stay. As landlords are not willing to give buildings on rent to transgenders, even when they are willing to pay the rent they ask, they are forced to live in slums and roadsides.
The 1991 census puts the transgender population of Tamil Nadu at one lakh, but 2011 census has found only around 40,000 of them. However, this does not mean that their number has come down. Social exclusion has forced them to live in temporary residences or roadsides, where the census machinery does not reach. It has thus become difficult for them to get family cards, voter ID cards, etc.
However, the Transgender Welfare Board, established by the Tamil Nadu government in 2008, is helping them to get state welfare assistance.
The number of transgenders with formal education, particularly higher education, and those employed in the formal sector, both in government and private organisations, is negligible.
Without formal education and financial support, it is difficult for them to obtain loans from banks, as their applications are rejected citing lack of surety, said Jeeva Rangaraj.
Success Stories Instill Confidence in Suffering Transgenders
The struggles and successes of a few among them in winning places in mainstream society, have inspired other transgenders and made them more confident, though they are still facing neglect and discrimination in virtually all fields of life. The recognition, they realise, was not offered, but earned by them.
To promote the transgenders’ cause, they conduct seminars in schools and colleges about issues they face, including the need for social acceptance, said S Poongulali of Covai Mav-atta Thirunangaigal Nala Sangam.
“Such seminars helps to transgender students overcome the induced inferior complex and excel in studies. The number of transgenders getting formal education is gradually increasing,” she added.
Coimbatore, apart from having the country’s first transgender news anchor, Padmini Prakash, is home to many transgenders who have succeeded in their profession. They have however gone unnoticed.
There are several transgender self-help groups in Coimbatore, including Thangaradham, Velliradham and Vettri self-help groups which excel in the catering business. Though a self-help group needs 12 members to be recognised, transgenders are allowed to form one such group with five members. They can get loans of up to Rs 12.5 lakh for their ventures.
Lakshmi, a member of Covai Mavatta Thirunangaigal Nala Sangam, is running her own catering business, BF Food, which has become a sought-after service within six months in the city. “Our service and tasty food has been recognised. We do not face any discrimination or abuse,” said Lakshmi, who employs other transgenders in her business.
Kuyili, also from Coimbatore, is a famous performer of Karagattam, a traditional dance. She has been in the field for nearly four decades and performed in front of political leaders, civil servants, film personalities, etc.
“As I am well-recognised and have experience, I do not face abuse or ill-treatment from anybody,” she said. “Once you get into the field of art, you will never leave it as it is addictive,” said Kuyili, who is very proud of her profession, and urged other transgenders to learn the traditional art form.