In a society so split on Gender Binary and enforcing the stereotype, Transgenders take a unique place. And because of the uniqueness, they are revered and repulsed based on society’s whims, at least in the Indian context. In pushing against the stereotype and the gender conformity established by the society, they become a piece of mockery – in movies and in public. They are denied education, employment and a right to live and are driven to begging and prostitution. The Indian apathy towards the mistreatment of these individuals is pathetic. The common man insults them or in the most suave cases walks away from them or moves seats in stations, trains, buses and even on the streets. With the great Indian mindset of un-touchability, Transfolks are perceived as one amongst them. Even the self describing “liberal”, “open-minded” educated person wants to “stay away” from the Transfolks. Why? Whoever said “Ignorance is bliss” is an idiot. If this is not ignorance that has brewed contempt and prejudice, then what is it?
Yet, we have a few who have fought for their causes. And one of them, a contemporary activist and reformer, or more accurately a social educationist as I perceive, is Kalki. A transperson herself, she understands the emotional turmoil we individuals go through and is dedicated to eradicate the social inequities in the society. She is pushing for reforms, working with other activists in counseling and helping Transfolks earn education, get vocationally trained and hence providing a path for many who have been shunned by society a leg to stand on.
An articulate speaker of English and Thamizh, and as some in the media describe her as a high flying professional, she lives a simple life, has gone through miseries in her own life, has fought the stereotypes and prejudices in the society around her and currently she is pioneering the path for social justice and education to the Transfolks through an organization she has founded, Sahodari Foundation. She has been a personal role model for many of us. And we at Gaysi are very excited to present to you “In conversation with Kalki”…
How far do you think Chennai, TN and India has come in social acceptance and legal inclusion of Transgender community?
Speaking of Chennai city and TN as a state (and now Karnataka), we are the pioneers when it comes to Transgender movement and thereby attaining legal rights.
Today we see a big change in people’s mindsets towards the Transgender community. And by people I mean not only those representing government agencies but also the media, academics, NGOs & professionals.
The progress we make in the cities trickles down to small towns and villages.
But unfortunately the same cannot be said of other State Governments. They have done nothing to improve the lives of those belonging to the TG community.
What is the reason according to you behind this lack of initiative in other Indian states?
Literacy plays a very important role in the betterment of the society. Since the literacy rate is higher in TN in comparison to other states, people are more open to receiving information thereby making the acceptance process smoother.
How can the common man participate in uplifting the TG community out of social and economic apartheid?
Understanding and acceptance. By not being discriminatory. It’s really that simple.
What in your life was the toughest thing you did for yourself?
Leaving home and my family I would say was the toughest decision of my life. I left them and went to live in Pondicherry. There I educated myself and learnt to live as a full time woman.
What would you say to all those closet TGs and people who are still conflicted?
Every day I get numerous emails from closeted transsexuals asking for advice on to be a woman, on how to wear make-up, etc but all this and much more information is easily available on the internet. So I honestly don’t have any advice to give as such. All I will say is that courage is most important, if you want to live a happy life. If you are happy living a closeted life then good but if you are not, then for how long will are you ready to live a life of suffering?
Be courageous to live a happy life. Live the person you want to be. Make your parents proud even after adopting the transgender lifestyle. And do something for the welfare of your community, your society, and your country.
What lead you to establish Sahodari Foundation? Could you tell us something about your current projects?
I am an educated person who holds a masters degree. Yet I was discriminated against. Be it in school, in university, in profession…by friends, by relatives…in almost all aspect of my life. The social stigma and discrimination disturbed me to a great extent. My education made me courageous and bold as a person and so I overcame my struggles. But it also made me think about those who come from an uneducated background, those who come from villages and small towns…who is there to support them, to take care of them from the bullies and make them capable of living a free life. And these were the reason why I started the Sahodari Foundation.
Currently the project I am most excited about is called “Project Kalki”. Here we are teaching seven underprivileged transgender women the process of documentary film making. It’s about watching stories through their eyes, their language. [To know more, kindly visit Project Kalki website]
Once all the films are completed, we plan on screening them in Chennai and various other cities.
First matrimonial website for transsexual women called Thirunangai.net. How has the response been so far?
Thirunangai.net was started off as a campaign to educate others on the Transgender issues, community, etc. To make it commercial or anything along these lines was never my intention. However the response has been overwhelming. And not only from India but globally. We have had students/IT professionals/doctors from countries like Germany, Switzerland, the Middle East offering to marry transgender women.
We haven’t conducted any marriages as yet but surely do so once we find the right couple, the right time and the right place.
Do you feel a divide still exists within the LGBTQ community in India?
A divide is definitely there. Many among the Gay & Lesbian community suffer from Transphobia and that I guess has also to do with a certain class divide that exists among us. Most transgender in India belong to a poor and uneducated background which makes them somewhat misfits. Obviously I don’t mean to stereotype anyone but it’s something I have observed/heard, something that is very visible in cities like Chennai, Delhi & Kolkata to name a few.
And how according to you we can work towards resolving this divide?
I feel there is a need of sensitization programs for lesbian and gay community members. The more we inform and educate one another of our grievances, backgrounds and struggles…the easier is would be to work towards the betterment of sexual minorities as a collective, in this country.
[* Editor’s Note : This interview is a joint effort between MJ & Rashmi]