PARUL SHARMA VILLUPURAM (TN), MAY 14 (PTI)
Thirty two-year-old Saranya is a busy and successful beautician in Salem. Her customers vouch for her skills and this has helped her erase memories of the days when she was one of the many transsexuals working as a sex worker.
Today, Saranya is courting success only after a lot of trauma and despondency – something which the entire transgender community in India faces.
"I am more than happy in my role as a beautician. Never in my dreams did I think of living a respectful life that his profession has bestowed on me. I have mental peace and satisfaction," she says.
Saranya is not a singular case of transsexuals dabbling in fields other than the world's oldest profession. While Malvika is a qualified engineer working as a peer educator with an NGO, Kritika is a videographer and edits a newsletter.
Her sexual status and social stigma notwithstanding, Kritika says she is curious to learn new things.
"I have done a diploma in AC refrigeration. I am also a fashion designer and help my uncle in developing motifs for his clothes," she says.
Thanks to vocational training provided by NGOs like Tamil Nadu AIDS Initative (TAI) these transgender persons or 'hijras' are discovering their hidden talents and using it to give expression to their aspirations.
"After being trained in Inter-personal Communications, I now interact with the members of my community to spread awareness on HIV/AIDS among them. Through short films, we try to inform them about the various infections, the treatments available for them," says a beaming Malvika.
However, Malvika, who is now working in drop-in centres in the 13 districts of Tamil Nadu, rues not getting a job as per her qualifications.
"I did a five-year diploma in Engineering from Salem. But no company was ever willing to give me a job. So I went to Mumbai to be with people of my kind." Kritika too was not accepted in her family. Fortunately for her, TAI decided to tap her talent for images and thus began her association with the video camera.
While Kritika has already applied for a loan to set up a video shop exclusively for the members of her community, Shilpa, another hijra, hopes to strengthen her catering business with each passing day.
Hailing from Coimbatore, Shilpa knew cooking was her calling. Under the aegis of a local NGO, she underwent a 45-day catering training to hone her culinary skills. Today, she gets catering orders from all major banquet halls in her area.
Most of them admit that prostitution is more out of necessity than out of choice.
Isolated by her brothers as soon as she began to discover and exhibit her sexual behaviour, Saranya was ostracized and forced to give up her education.
"I worked in a hospital briefly. But the staff there derided me for dressing up like a woman and growing my hair. I was fired for living the way I liked. I sold my body because I had to sustain myself and had no other option," she says.
However, today she is a confident person as she has "realized her worth" and is earning her living through "respectful means".
"Earlier, when I was a sex worker, society would mock at me. The police and rowdies would come to harass me and would snatch my earnings. But today, no one dares to say anything and people call me "beautician madam".
"Most of the people from the transgender community are involved in flesh trade as they are from the poor strata of society, are uneducated and are not given any jobs. But they are all as gifted as any normal person. So, we recognize that talent and hone it further to enable them to make informed choices in life," says Jayashree, Communications Officer, TAI.