Sathrangi is an amalgamation of two words – ‘Sath’, which means together, and ‘Rangi’, which means colouring. Sathrangi is a trans-feminine Indian livelihood venture that aims to create employment opportunities for transgender and queer people with a vision to create a inclusive society, “a society for all”.
Led by transwomen, it aims to counter stereotypes and create for trans people through sale of handicrafts. The startup hopes to end gender and sexual identity-based livelihood discrimination by creating a society where all will be treated with dignity.
Today we talk to Koushik Hore about his journey with his startup and the idea behind it.
I was born in a small town called Malda in West Bengal. During my childhood, I used to think myself a girl. My dominant feminine interests made things a lot harder on myself. While in my family the silence grew, I was admitted into an all-boys school. Again my gentle nature as part of my femininity was dominant. I tried behaving like a “Boy”, but failed! So again my identity became a point of talk and I got subjected to bullying. Silence started growing around me. It lead to my underachievement and irregularity at school. Maybe when I was 12 or 13, I started doubting my gender identity! I didn’t find any matches for me. I guess even now my self-doubt is my greatest pace inhibitor and also my oldest companion.
Living in a homophobic environment forced me to conceal my identity and sexuality, for fear of negative reactions and consequences of coming out. Slowly I was losing myself to the cold silence, probably to which hundreds of like me are put into and probably have been feeling dead.
Q. How do you see your work empowering others as well as yourself?
Probably by this time I had enough of my suffering and I got in touch with the youth development organization named Prantakatha and started visiting their spaces which were extremely gender friendly and assuring. During this time I found many people like me are suffering in silence because of their gender identity. They continue to face discrimination & exclusion in all sphere of life. With support from Prantakatha I started forming a space that could give voices to hundreds of people like me who feel caged by homophobic silence. What I decided to do is to question! Simply question the silence!
These same experiences crystallized me and other few my friends to work on these issues and we formed QueerIUs or Queer Identity and Us in 2015. A youth led initiative to create dialogue on sexuality, on gender, on sexual health among queer and non queer youth. The feedbacks were amazing. What I did not realize that the silence inside me actually in turn have created thousands voices inside and questions that needed sounding box. Queerius became that platform. We have successfully created queer friendly spaces in colleges and establishing one all bengal network of Queer people mostly led by Transgender women across 11 districts of Bengal in the name of Bengal Queer collective.
Q. How did the idea emerge for this venture?
During my work under unManifesto campaign supported by UNFPA last year, LGBTQ community were asked about their demands. One of the most significant demands was to create employment opportunities for transgender people. They are deprived of the right to education, employment and decent livelihood. They are even deprived of proper share of their paternal property because of their distinct gender identity forcing them to resort to begging or risky sex trade.
This realization greatly impacted me. With help of Prantakatha, Pravah and Community the Youth Collective, I started Sathrangi, a trans-feminine Indian livelihood venture. Led by transwomen and seeing the participation of women from excluded communities like those from red light areas, survivors of human trafficking and women farmers from the Sunderbans, the initiative has found support from many quarters.
Q. Gender identities come with their stereotypes. How do you see a gender less society? Would it be a more free society and more accepting?
To me a gender neutral society would be: where your gender doesn’t get dictated by someone else and you become free to assign your own expression and choice. The society where gender doesn’t get equated with clothes, body posture, expression and what not, but by free will. Through my life experience one thing I have understood that diversity is at the core of the nature. We should celebrate the uniqueness.
Q.How would you describe the Trans visibility scene in India?
Growing up in 90s, I did not see anyone like us in our text books or serving in public offices. Though Indian mainstream films did have roles portraying third gender but mostly as caricature.
Unfortunately even in this 21st century, transgender people are in vulnerable condition not only in the areas of physical and mental health, but also in their exposure to risks in every aspect of life- violence, discrimination, marginalization, their access to supportive resources, literacy rate, work force participation, in aspects of enjoying human dignity and visibility.
It is also important to bear in mind the mere bills and legislation cannot provide the very essence of human dignity and visibility, until and unless there is a radical shift in the attitude of mass, functionaries in different position and status towards the transgender on the whole.
Fighting all odds, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, Ranjita Sinha, Aparna Banerjee, or Gauri Sawant -these trans women have shown us that alternative future present is possible. One of the ways the activists, human right organizations are promoting trans visibility is through social media activism.
Hence a combination of Constitutional provisions, government policies, social action, visibility and self-awareness among transgender will eventually result in Indian society becoming more inclusive society for transgender community.
Q.What are some of the current projects you are working on, along same lines?
The startup hopes to end gender and sexual identity-based livelihood discrimination by creating a society where all will be treated with dignity. To achieve this, we have adopted three strategies:
Advocacy for systemic and cultural shift. Through which Jiya Das became first ever Operation Theater or OT technician in a Indian super specialty hospital.
Creating value chains and acceptance for transgender and queer people in society. Under this, we have initiated ‘Sapno ki Udaan’ an informal learning and caregiving centre for underprivileged children of manual scavenging community in Malda district in collaboration with Gour Banglar Sanghati Samity GBSS, a grassroot trans-CBO (Community Based Organisation).
Q. Was your family supportive in your initiative? What’s your reaction to homophobic attitudes?
Yes, my family is extremely supportive in our initiative. They are supporting the learning centre in many ways.
It really hurts when I see homophobia or people’s indifferent attitude towards this community. But over the years I have realized that homophobia is a result of the patriarchal system we live in. If we want to build a society where everyone can feel safe and live with their dignity, we need to change the thought process against this prejudice. Communication Is the key but it has to be both ways. An inclusive education can also play a significant role in eradicating homophobia and indifferent attitudes towards LGBTQ community.