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Under attack, transgender finds refuge in Chennai

in INDIA, 15/05/2012

Aatma (name changed) was very ambitious. The transgender learnt dance in Kerala Kalamandalam, a premier institution for the performing arts. With the help of her boyfriend, she had a sex change operation and moved in with him. They were together for five months in Kochi but she was forced to flee Kerala last week.

According to transgender organisations in Chennai, Aatma is just one of many transgenders who are forced to leave Kerala, where they are harassed because of their sexuality. Many of them move to Chennai where there is more acceptability.

"My wish was to become a housewife. Though I managed to find a partner, society would not allow us to live together because I am a transgender," said Aatma, whose boyfriend returned to his parents' house after the couple was threatened. "Though Kerala claims to be a progressive state, Tamil Nadu gives sexual minorities much more protection. They do not let us live in peace in Kerala," said Aatma.

Sources in Chennai said, at least 100 transgenders have made Chennai their home over the past few years after they were forced to leave Kerala.

Rose Venkatesan, India's first transgender television show host, says transgenders in Kerala get a raw deal. "I am shocked at the number of transgenders victimised in Kerala and how they are treated there. Many transgenders from Kerala have been forced to take refuge here. It is shameful for a state which is known for being progressive and literate," said Venkatesan, who gave shelter to Aatma when she came to Chennai last week.

Sahodaran, a group working for rights of sexual minorities, has given shelter to many transgenders. Members of the group say transgenders are forced to leave Kerala because everyone, including the police, hound them out of the state.

Transgenders in Kerala become outcasts the moment they decide to come out in the open, says a former United Nations Development Programme adviser who worked for sexual minorities in south Asian countries. "When they start crossdressing, they become targets of ridicule," he said. "It is still not possible for transgenders in India to get jobs in any mainstream profession. That's why they either become sex workers or beggars."

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