'Fight for visibility': A Kerala election like never before for the transgender community

This is the first polls to the assembly after both the CPM and Congress took revolutionary steps to accommodate the marginalised group in their ranks.

Published: 02nd April 2021 09:41 PM  |   Last Updated: 03rd April 2021 07:18 AM   |  A+A-

Image used for representational purpose (Graphic | Vijesh CK)

Online Desk

Changanacherry-native Laya Jaison's WhatsApp status is the viral video of DYFI's 'Hridayapoorvam' programme, the youth organisation's pilot programme for providing free meals for thousands of patients and bystanders at government medical colleges across Kerala. In her first assembly polls since becoming the first transgender member of the CPM youth wing's block committee, Laya's social media handles are brimming with pro-LDF posts.

"Many members of the community have profited from the welfare schemes of the LDF government. Hence, even neutral transgender voters are attracted to the Left fold. The state transgender cell's activities since 2018 have been remarkable and very helpful to the community," Laya said sharing her optimism of the party returning to power.

Meanwhile, not very far away in neighbouring Alappuzha district, Kerala Pradesh Transgender Congress (KPTC) state president Arunima is busy campaigning for the UDF candidate. She insists that an anti-incumbency wave is sweeping across Kerala and her party will come into power. The PG student is planning to tour constituencies across Kerala to participate in the final phase of the campaigns.

"The Left is trying to divide the transgender community. They have done a few things just for the sake of it and they have not implemented any far-reaching projects. The UDF will bring special schemes for transgenders and introduce reservation for our people," the first transgender in the country to become Mandal president of the Congress party said.

Kerala is witnessing active participation of the transgender community like never before with their loyalty largely split between the two rival fronts. This is the first polls to the assembly after both the CPM and Congress took revolutionary steps to accommodate the marginalised group in their party ranks and members of the community are excited to involve as much as they can in the democratic process.

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The Social Welfare Department under the current Pinarayi Vijayan government had launched the ‘Mazhavillu’ (Rainbow) umbrella scheme, involving initiatives for ensuring inclusivity of the transgender community. Seats reserved in arts and science colleges for transgender students, skill development programmes, a Rs 50,000  grant for wannabe entrepreneurs etc were some of the schemes under Mazhavillu. It also provides Rs 2.5 lakh for transwomen and Rs 5 lakh for transmen to undergo gender change surgery along with an aftercare relief amount for 12 months. The Left camp is confident that the beneficiaries of these programmes will support them in the polls.

While Arunima accepts the Left enjoys the backing of a major part of the community, she says this is achieved through intimidation.  She says a better tomorrow awaits her lot under the UDF regime and promises to reconstruct the welfare schemes in a more beneficial style. Reservation and better representation are among her offers to the community, provided they help the Congress-led front to return to power.

"The LDF government is tricking the community. The current transgender boards have little or no power and remain inactive. I had participated in a UDF meeting and communicated directly with the KPCC President Mullappally Ramachandran, Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala and Oommen Chandy, who assured to give us a reservation and form the welfare board. We will be treated like any man or woman under the UDF government," Arunima said.

Explaining how the KPTC is part of Congress' election machinery, the KSU leader said they have formed transgender squads in each district who are working in all constituencies to ensure the backing of the community to the UDF candidates. Arunima said she believes the Congress will also be the first major party to field a transgender contestant to the Kerala assembly in the 2026 polls.

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However, Shyama S Prabha, project officer at the Directorate of Social Justice, has a different view. While the minority community has got miles to go, Shyama states nobody can question the efforts of the LDF government to uplift them.

"The current government has played a pivotal role in uplifting the transgender community in the state. Scholarship for all transgender students, shelter and financial assistance to transgender couples, different grants and awareness campaigns etc are some of the programmes successfully run by this government. Many have become the beneficiaries of these schemes irrespective of political lineage or any other parameters. Since there are evidence and documents to prove all this, nobody can falsely claim they haven't received any assistance. Much of the criticism against the current government can't be factually proven right," she wrote on Facebook.

This is where Ananya Kumari Alex comes into the picture. Kerala's first transgender Radio Jockey, Ananya has added another first to her credit by contesting the assembly polls. The Kollam native, who is also a makeup artist is fighting the polls from Malappuram's Vengara constituency against IUML stalwart PK Kunhalikkutty on a Democratic Social Justice Party ticket.

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Just because somebody has benefited from a government programme, it is wrong to assume they automatically become a supporter of the ruling side, the 28-year-old points out.

"I'm a beneficiary of the Mazhavillu programme. I can never forget how it helped me during hard times. I have praised the LDF for their positive moves on social media but that doesn't make me a 'comrade'.  Criticism is not a sign of hatred and appreciation doesn't mean unflinching loyalty. Let each person decide on their own who to support," Ananya said.

Visibility and representation are the biggest demands of the transgender community, she says. Her fight is to ensure gender equality in society and improve the condition of the minority group. "Ask Vengara's sitting MLA how many transgenders live in the constituency. Do you think he will have an answer? This is a fight for visibility. I need to prove we can be good leaders as well and to ensure equal opportunity for all," she added.


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