Beggars and sex workers no more: This transgender-run dhaba in Karnataka is an inspiration

Chitradurga dhaba run by transgenders reflects their strength, diversity and the challenges they face.
Transgenders-run Satara Dhaba in Karnataka. (Photo | EPS)
Transgenders-run Satara Dhaba in Karnataka. (Photo | EPS)

CHITRADURGA: Seven years back, a group of transgenders purchased a small piece of land on the outskirts of Chitradurga, near Thippareddy Auto Nagar, by paying close to Rs. 22.5 lakh that they had raised from friends and acquaintances without approaching a bank or the government.

Tired of living life as beggars and sex workers, this group, led by Bhavanamma, included eight others. They raised a further Rs. 4 lakh to construct a building and then they decided to start a ‘dhaba’ or roadside restaurant.

Seven years later, the Satara Dhaba is a hotspot. Not only does it dish out yummy food, but it also provides 20 members of the transgender community a refuge, and the means to earn a living. With all loans repaid, the group can look forward to owning and running the Dhaba as they please, while providing assistance to those looking for help. “Who wants a life of begging. We wanted to lead a respectable life, that of normal human beings, we are humans too after all,” the group choruses.

But it was not all smooth sailing for them, according to Bhavana, customers were initially hesitant to step in. “Now we have an average daily turnover of between Rs. 5,000 and Rs. 10,000,” she exclaims.

When Satara had just started, the food they prepared would be distributed to beggars. It was Bhavana who stepped up and started urging people to visit the ‘dhaba’ and eat there. Today, the lives of those employed there are very different, with many completely self-reliant and happy.

The eatery offers the usual ‘dhaba’ fare; roti, sabji and different types of rice, popular with truckers and highway travellers. But more importantly, it is fast changing perceptions of transgenders in the city. “Satara’s success is changing the way the community looks at itself as well. Our employees are no longer interested in begging or sex work,” a proud Bhavana says.

However, what needs to change is the attitude that financial institutions, including government-owned ones, have towards the community. Several members of the community say they are shunned when it comes to applying for loans or seeking other financial assistance from the government. “We need government support, loans and subsidies.

Transgenders must receive assistance to grow into entrepreneurs,” she urges. Some good has already happened. “The district administration is issuing ration cards, voter identity cards and Aadhaar cards to sexual minorities. This has helped them gain a respectable identity. Families reject children with unconventional sexual orientation, forcing them into sex work, but gaining an education can help improve their lives,” she says, urging members of the community not to give up on higher education.

Helping them in this endeavour is Narayana Swamy C, who runs a local newspaper. He was one of the first to identify problems that transgenders faced in the district, by voluntarily engaging them in conversation for collecting information. He then understood the larger problems of the community, including societal rejection and financial trouble.

Narayana Swamy immediately plunged into action and ensured that the community were given voter ID cards. Then came the process of helping them secure loans. “If we are not ready to help them, who will. They are also human beings and their gender difference must not be seen as a hurdle for them to be a part of society. They also have equal rights to live a normal life like us,” he says.

To help him in his job convincing people, Swamy often falls back on a Supreme Court ruling that states that transgenders are also part of society, given the same constitutional status as others.

With the success of Satara, the group running the dhaba did not become complacent. They went on to install a water purification unit on the National Highway near Satara, offering quality drinking water to passersby, truck drivers as well as residents of neighbouring villages.

After the initial hiccups, this too became a hit with the residents. The unit offers water at Rs. 2 for a 1-litre bottle and Rs. 10 for a 20-litre can. The project became operational just last week and is already popular with villagers of Kyadigere, Dodda Siddavvanahalli, Palavvanahalli, Kunchiganal, and Ingaladal.

This too has been started from money saved from the earnings from Satara. Radha and Vasanthi, speaking to The New Sunday Express, say that the unit cost Rs. 3 lakh. “We draw water from a borewell on our premises. Even the cost of the borewell was borne by Bhavana,” they say, clearly in awe.

Vasanthi, a resident of Challakere, was disowned by her family. “I now live here, this is my home and Bhavana is my guardian. She gave me a life of dignity when I was begging on the streets,” she says. 
Both also spoke of the need for financial support for the community. “Earning a livelihood in middle age is a challenge. Financial support to transgenders interested in income generation activities is an urgent need,” Vasanthi says.

While there is monetary support available under the Mythri scheme, it is a paltry Rs. 500 which is negligible, says Radha, a resident of Putlarahalli who was also abandoned by her family before she was rescued by Bhavana, while begging in Tumakuru.

Similarly, the community also needs representation in various sectors but mainly education, employment, politics and business. “Like reservation for SCs/STs, reservation for our community will help in empowerment. Our voices can be heard right from the Gram Panchayat all the way to Parliament. We will live a life of dignity with our head held high,” Bhavana says.

For the near future however, agriculture is the plan for this enterprising group. “Currently, the absence of rain and non-availability of water has led to us postponing the idea for now. But I want to reach out to all transgenders who are begging on the roads and convince them to turn to agriculture,” she says.

At the same time, the group also had an appeal to the people around them. “We are also human beings, please treat us like normal persons and try to respect us as well,” they say, before exclaiming with a smile, “Do visit us when you are on the Pune-Bengaluru National Highway next!” 

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