[Editor’s Note: Rudrani Chettri is a human rights activist, LGBTI and Transgender Rights activist. She studied English from Delhi University and is currently heading a health and human rights organization ‘Mitr Trust’ as its managing director. She is also a development consultant and does part time modeling for non profit organizations. She adds the richness of her work not only to the Queer movement but also to the lives of people she touches through her uninhibited conversations and free mind. She is a wonderful friend to Gaysi and we feel privileged to present this essay to our readers.]
Melanie Dornier is a a French freelancer photographer, currently based out of New Delhi. She enjoys subjects that speak of social change and gender issue, and captures photographs that are fresh and tell lovely tales in themselves. We feel lucky that she reached out to us earlier this year with her idea to work on Asia’s TG community, and shared these pictures with us at the end of her project. Thank you!
When did you decide to tattoo your name on your hand? How did you arrive at this name? What does it mean?
I had this tattoo done over a year ago. The story behind this tattoo and my name is that once I was sure that I am a transgender person and I have nothing to do with what my past was like, I wanted to end that phase of being known and addressed as a male person. Therefore, I decided to look up a name for myself and I googled Indian names for females, starting from the alphabet R.
I came across the name ‘RUDRANI’ which meant “The Shakti of Rudra, considered to preside over blood sacrifice in the Vedic Period and who later came to be identified as an incarnation of Durga. Rudrani is the divine will and sacrifice related to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu”.
I did not want to change this name and have it for my life time as long as I am alive. Therefore I got it tattooed so that even when I will be dead, people may take away everything from me, but this name will stay.
The space in this photograph looks very laidback and has some interesting posters in the background. Tell us a bit about it.
This is half a section of the Mitr Trust (MSM/TG/Hijra CBO) administration, and the cabin behind is a library and resource centre for staff, team members, peer educators, volunteers and people who come to the drop- in centre. Also, where I am sitting is a space where we occasionally do our review meetings and other quick meets related to any project, program or activity.
This place also holds many memories of the occasional happy moments and celebrations like birthdays, anniversary and festivals.
We have put posters on the wall designed by Mitr Trust. Mitr Trust has clicked these pictures and used them for posters to showcase various aspect of the community, basically to instil pride and get people inspired.
This place is comforting, powerful, inspiring and educating for many of us. We have had happy moments here, sorrows and tears, success and power shows. More than that, we can gather here and give assurance and comfort to anyone who needs it.
This is a place of religious worship, we take it. Could you explain its significance to you?
The holy tomb of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti- Ajmer Sharif has a very special place in our Hijra religious group, since the time of Moghuls.
We Hijras do believe that the Khwaja had blessed a hijra to be a mother and she had conceived a child which made her the ultimate woman; one thing that we hijras always look forward to is to be complimented as women.
Since then, the first chaddar (Quilt) that is laid on the tomb is of the Hijra Nayaks, which we do every year. Every year, there is a massive gathering of the hijras in huge numbers and we all congregate there to offer our prayers.
As a Hijra, I also wanted to be part of this and thank Khwaja Moinuddin for all the blessings and my beautiful life as a Hijra.
These photos give a vibe that all the people in the frame are very comfortable with the camera being pointed at them, even while you are demonstrating using a condom. Was it actually so? Tell us a bit about your work.
This picture was taken during my outreach, where in I occasionally visit the house of other Hijras, kothis, and transgender folks(MTF), who are my friends and part of Mitr Trust.
I visit them with the purpose of meeting them, talking to them, interacting with them and sharing our views with each other, as they do not have many ways and resources to interact with the outer world and society.
Talking about safe sex and condom is part of my work and they are always comfortable to hear it from me or my team members.
We Hijras are always up for photo shoots and Melini (Photographer) took the verbal consent from all to click and use it. In fact, they were happy while Melini was clicking pictures.
Two photos depict you travelling with your friends. Is it usually a hassle free experience and do people tend to be respectful? Has the attitude been any different towards the transgender community after the third gender status was acknowledged?
To be honest, I think that for most people, till date we are an item, an object, someone who is meant to be used, made fun of, and on whom they can impose their decisions.
I always see discrimination, violence and stigma in two forms; one which is direct and another which is indirect. The direct one is verbally and physically violent to others, and the indirect one is harassing and being violent to you mentally.
I don’t like to be stared at, people whispering in each other’s ears, giggling and looking at me, giving me names indirectly and this is what discrimination, violence and stigma is for me. In this case, I don’t think they are “RESPECTFUL” to me. It is always difficult for me to travel alone or with a friend, but I have learnt to ignore it. Do I have a choice?
The judgment is one thing, but to have a change in the attitude is totally different. We have undoubtedly a long way to go, in order to gain real “ACKNOWLEDGEMENT”.
What does love mean to you? And how do you define it in your daily life?
This is a bitter truth for many of us, but as a Hijra, love is something which we buy and everyone in our lives has a different price to pay for his/her love to us. I read this line by Ana?s Nin somewhere, “Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.” Maybe it is true for many but for us Hijras or personally me, it ONLY dies when we are broke.
Usually my daily routine is from home to office and office to home, meeting people, talking to them. I have a very simple life and my best friend nowadays is my Facebook account, so whenever I want to say something, I tell it to Facebook and it does the rest.
Share one of your favourite dreams with us.
Dreams change every day but my present dream is to have my own apartment and to live with my partner. To have a house with a neighbourhood which will not give a damn about who I am and what I do, but treat me as any other neighbour, person and HUMAN.
I think it is not too much to ask for, but I know this is just a dream and dreams usually don’t come true.