Please stop calling it a school!” says a vexed Vijayarajamallika over the phone. “We have to go through so many stages to transform it into a school,” says the transgender poet, who is a co-founder of Sahaj International. I gingerly apologised and asked her if I could visit the institution. A few days later, Mallika’s directions led me to a light pink double-storied building near Kakkanad. Sahaj International: An Alternative Learning Centre for School Dropout Transgenders — reads the banner out front.
Mallika, who welcomed me with a smile, ushered me to the fi rst fl oor and was enthusiastic to show me around. There were two classrooms, a dorm room with common washrooms, a kitchen, an offi ce room and a room for vocational training. “It took us some time to renovate this place to what it is today. We even found a few snakes here,” says Mallika. “Goodness!” I quickly pull my legs up onto the bench where I am sitting. “Don’t worry, that’s an old story,” she laughs. As we sat down for a chat, she explained why Sahaj is not a school and what sets it apart from other education institutions.
- Sahaj International is not a ‘school’. It is an alternative learning centre where transgenders can continue their education, in association with The National Institute of Open Schooling. Also, it is a fi rst-of-its-kind initiative.
- The meaning of Sahaj is natural or original. Thus the reason to choose this particular name for the alternative learning centre as it inspires people to be original or in other words, be themselves.
- Chances are rare that you’d see a child here. The students are transgenders who had to drop out of school at some point in their life. The aim of starting Sahaj was to educate the dropouts and make them independent to live and work in society like everyone else.
- In the fi rst batch of ten, they aim to include a migrant, a tribal and a differently-abled transgender.
- Not promoting prostitution is the key principle of the organisation. The founders aim to create role models among transgenders and hence promote more people to come out and lead a normal life. They urge the government to take up this initiative as it would encourage more transgenders to get educated.
- If you’re imagining a space like a strict entrance coaching centre, you’re wrong. The candidates are put at complete ease here. They can choose to be in the classroom or even read a book under a tree. The curriculum will be completely student-oriented. There will be no language classes.
- If the candidates want to learn a particular vocation, there is also scope for that. There are options to train them in many trades including stitching, baking, taxi driving and even organic farming (you didn’t expect that, did you?).
- There are no specially-trained instructors. Instead, Sahaj has around 60 volunteers from different age groups, who are ready to take classes. They include students, teachers, engineers and doctors.
- Sahaj is still in its formative stage and hence the founders are trying out various models to see which works.
- Despite all efforts, no one has registered at Sahaj. This has disappointed Mallika. But she isn’t hopeless. Along with her volunteers, she is conducting outreach programmes to educate and create awareness among other transgenders, determined to guide them to a normal life.