CHENNAI: In the last couple of years, new frontiers have opened for people from the trans community, across the state. In one such initiative, Raja Kumari, a 42-year-old transwoman was inducted as a paralegal volunteer by the District Legal Service Authority (DLSA) in October 2017. “I’ve always been open to new experiences,” says Kumari, a PLV representing Swasti, a health catalyst.
Seated in her 300 sq ft house in Thiruvottiyur, she tells us that she’s a content woman. “I know there are several transgender persons who are not accepted by their families, who are abused by their friends, and those who run away and do petty jobs to make ends meet. But fortunately, my family welcomed me with open arms. They didn’t treat me differently...it was my decision to live away from home so that I can face life and be independent,” says the Dharapuram native.
As a 15-year-old, she worked at a spinning and weaving mill at Dharapuram. “For eight hours of work, we used to get paid `8 and 50 paise. I used to collect all the money and give it to my mother for house expenses,” she says. Later, she completed a computer course, learned to typewrite, and joined a local advocate as a clerk. “A lot of my knowledge about legal aid is from here. Though I was just a clerk, I was able to grasp information quickly,” shares Kumari who was also a peer educator in Tamil Nadu aids initiative project.
Ever since Kumari landed in Chennai, in 2006, she has been juggling several jobs. “My first role here was at a data entry job in a software company. I have faced harassment in school, at work in the nool company but, the city treated me well,” smiles Kumari, who later went on to train transwomen as peer educators, as part of Thai Vizhundhugal trust, an organisation that empowers the trans community.
“A lot of opportunities to help others came my way. That’s what I wanted to do — to help the community,” she says. Her entry into legal aid, as a paralegal volunteer, was serendipitous. “Five of us from Vizhundhugal were approached to submit our resumes and attend an interview to become a PLV...and I got selected,” she says.
Kumari confesses that dealing with cases hasn’t been easy. “I have come across different people with different issues — from child abuse, rights of women and transgenders to dealing with petty cases — identifying every problem at a grassroot level is tough. But our camps have made it easy for people to approach us. We create awareness on many topics,” she says.
From filling applications (manually and online) to ensuring help and guidance for people in need of legal aid, especially from the weaker sections of the society, she has done it all. Recently, Kumari played a vital role in helping eight transgender persons obtain pattas for land after petitioning DLSA. “My main aim is to empower people about their rights. I will keep doing it both on and off the field,” she says.
She’s Kumari akka and amma for the folks in her neighbourhood, and a crusader of justice. Ask her if there have been incidents of harassment during camps and her eyes gleam. “Not at all! Most people are surprised that there hasn’t been any bad mouthing by the public about me, because I am a transgender. People have become more sensitive towards the community and it’s just help that they need,” she says.
Kumari also specialises in the Thanjavur bani and runs her own dance school, Amrutha Dance Academy, in Maduravoyal. “I have been learning dance since I was six years old. I lost touch in between, but went back to it once I came to the city. I did a four-year diploma course in dance and have also gone through a dance teacher training. I teach about 20 children today,” shares the performer-cum-mentor, pointing to awards stacked on her shelf. “I got them for various performances,” says the ardent fan of danseuse Shobana.