BENGALURU: From being ridiculed, beaten up and thrown out of the house to being forced to beg or do sex work to earn her livelihood, the story of 22-year-old Sanam Haji — a successful vegetable vendor from Bagalkot, North Karnataka, with a daily turnover of around Rs 6,000 — is extremely heartening and encouraging for people at the crossroads of gender orientation and identity.
“My vision is to open a big department store for vegetables and fresh fruits in Bagalkot. People who had shunned, abused and kicked my food with their feet now address me with respect. I have an identity in my city,” she said.
Sanam is a transwoman. Born Hyder Ali in a respectable family in Bagalkot, she realised she had very strong feminine traits when she entered puberty.
“I told my mother first that I felt like a girl and loved to dress like one. She was shocked and threatened to throw me out of the house. Later, as the word spread in the family, they tried every way to ‘correct’ me. They even blackmailed me to get engaged to a girl, saying this would fulfil my mother’s wish. She was a cancer patient. I rebelled the day my family got me engaged because I didn’t want to ruin an innocent girl’s life,” Sanam told TNIE on the sidelines of an international symposium ‘Gyan’, organised by Best Practices Foundation (BPF), Solidarity Foundation and Sangama, for gender and sexual minorities (GSM) community in the city on Tuesday.
“I began to beg and do sex work to earn my livelihood. I hated myself for it but had no choice. It was then that I met Sameer Karajgi from ‘Milan Sangha’, a community-based organisation. He counselled and helped a lot in making me understand my sexual orientation,” said Sanam.
“Hyder came to me when he was 13-14 years old, and I told him to concentrate on his education. But the more society resisted his trans-identity, the more he rebelled. He began dressing up like a woman, applying mehendi, wearing bangles etc. Hyder soon turned into Sanam. She has earned respect for herself,” said Sameer.
Thanks to an entrepreneurial training programme -- Market Oriented Livelihood Enhancement(MOVE) by BPF -- Sanam soon learnt the ropes and turned into a vegetable vendor. “After doing MOVE, I stopped begging and sex work. Now, the Nagar Sabha has given me a shop to sell vegetables. The respect and love I get from society has changed my life,” said Sanam. Her family has accepted her back and she now lives in a joint family in Navanagar.
“A new study on the transgender community has revealed gross inequalities,” said BPF Executive Director Sangeetha Purushothaman. The study by BPF -- a Bengaluru-based non-profit organisation -- was carried out across 17 districts in Karnataka to measure the capital possessed by the GSM community, and their overall well-being. “Research revealed that the community faced severely restricted access to physical, natural and financial capital, and a low quality of life. Conditions that have worsened after the pandemic,” she added.
BPF, in association with Solidarity Foundation and Sangama, helps such vulnerable communities become self-reliant and achieve their economic potential to live dignified life.