VIBGYOR, the colour of jasmine and service

Just as the popular Thovalai flower market starts getting packed, Santhiya also becomes busy with her daily activities, both as an elected representative and as a compassionate human.
Ward member Santhiya Devi brings public service to the doorsteps of Thovalai.
Ward member Santhiya Devi brings public service to the doorsteps of Thovalai.Photo | V Karthikalagu

KANNIYAKUMARI : The quaint village of Thovalai in Kanniyakumari wakes up early every day to the sweet fragrance of jasmine, so does the ward member of the village panchayat, A Santhiya Devi. Just as the popular Thovalai flower market starts getting packed, Santhiya also becomes busy with her daily activities, both as an elected representative and as a compassionate human. For the villagers, her service is like the smell of jasmine – subtle yet incomparable.

The 41-year-old trans woman, originally from Ozhuginaseri in Nagercoil, has been residing with her parents in ward 4 of Thovalai for more than 15 years now. Born into a middle-class family of three children, Santhiya was in class 8 when she started being aware of her identity. Growing up, she understood more about her sexuality and interests. The growth became easy as her family stood with her in every step.

Santhiya became socially active by beginning to perform Villu Pattu, a folk art, in temple functions along with other artistes. Even as a child, she showed interest in helping people, especially elderly women, in mundane tasks, including going to ration shops and paying electricity bills. Santhiya scored good marks in class 10, however, ended her studies after completing class 12. She later travelled across Mumbai and Bengaluru and became part of the trans communities there. She returned 15 years back and settled in Thovalai, a land known for flowers.

As Santhiya resumed performing Villu Pattu at temple functions in Kanniyakumari district and across the state, she began meeting more people and got a better understanding of their lives and sufferings. Her quest for public service slowly took shape from then.

In the 2019 local body polls, Santhiya contested from ward 4 of Thovalai village panchayat and emerged victorious, not surprising anyone. She thereby became the first transgender person elected to a local body from the district. Her cheerful nature and compassion are infectious and people saw her as a hope. The respect she receives for her service has only been growing in the last four years.

Santhiya is everything — an exceptional artiste, a responsible daughter, a small-time entrepreneur, and a loving mother. Along with fulfilling her duties as the ward member, Santhiya attends temple events to perform Villu Pattu from Tamil month Thai till Aadi. During other months, her source of income comes from tying flowers, thereby supporting her parents and educating a disabled child she takes care of.

Apart from her duties as an elected representative, Santhiya helps the villagers to get Aadhaar card, voter ID, old age pension, and other government services.

V Valliammal, a resident, says, “If not for Santhiya’s help, I wouldn’t have got my old age pension. My husband did not have an Aadhaar card and she is the one who guided us in the process to get it. As villagers with little or no education, all we need is a helping hand like Santhiya who would teach us our rights and stand with us.”

T Kala says she has no worry about anything related to government services now, as Santhiya appears whenever there is a need. “She is always available in the village to take care of everything,” adds Kala.

A trans woman, K Karthiga, says she had known Santhiya from a very young age. “Her commendable service as a ward member makes me and our community proud. She is our role model.” Thovalai panchayat president A Nedunchezhian and vice president N M Thanu say they are truly satisfied with Santhiya’s performance in the last four years. “We and other members have a good rapport with her. We take so much pride in her,” they add.

While the villagers and seniors were busy complimenting her, Santhiya was busy on her phone and waved while heading to the panchayat office where the residents await her arrival to get some paperworks done. A good samaritan indeed.

(Edited by Anagha R Manoj)

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