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Smiley, an activist working for transgenders’ rights, says it is crucial to educate children to ensure that they grow up to become more sensitive adults. Photo: R. Shivaji Rao.
An ongoing battle against discrimination

in INDIA, 20/04/2012

Participants share success stories, reflect on struggles at Transgender Day celebrations

The glow on their faces, in some cases, the result of make-up, and in others, pure excitement, as they wait their turn to marry the Lord Koothandavar and re-enact an ancient myth, and the subsequent wailing as they mourn his death by breaking bangles – Vincent Paul has captured all of it in his photographs.

Vincent has a keen interest in the history of the transgender community and has been documenting the lighter and sorrow-filled moments of their lives and struggles in the State. “The emotions and the enthusiasm of this community is what got me interested in them,” says the 25-year-old photographer.

As part of the Transgender Day celebrations on Sunday, the community felicitated and cherished the efforts of people, outside their community who have made a difference to their lives. “We kept fighting our battles on our own but now it feels nice to see there are others interested in our struggle too,” said Priya Babu, a transgender activist. ‘Transgender Day' was celebrated for the first time two years ago, when a host of welfare schemes were announced for the community.

The Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers' Association organised the celebration on Sunday. A number of events, including skits, drawing competitions and singing performances were held at an open area in T. Nagar to engage as many people as possible. “It is not only about reading literature about them but understanding their concerns and taking them to the society,” said Saidai. J., the association's joint secretary.

From organising a special mass service for the community to even forming self help groups for them, several activists in the city have been lending their support, which is increasingly making their concerns visible now, said Ms. Babu.

More than three lakh members of this community are estimated to live in Tamil Nadu. Over a decade's struggle earned them a special ‘third gender' category on ration cards. There are noted television hosts and many have also entered the world of entertainment. “But we still don't get the basic privileges that others do. Many of us are still into sex work or begging. When will that change?” asked Smiley, a young transgender here. “Most of us are 18-20 when we fully realise that we are transgenders.

Until then, the trauma that we go through when society, teachers and even families mocks at our behaviour is huge ,” she says.
An increased stipend of at least Rs. 6,000 will help a transgender educate herself, without having to think of livelihood alone, said Priya. Also, many don't even think of education because the thought of living in hostels is a cause for despair, she added.

More importantly, feels Smiley, is the way children are told about the community. “They have many myths about who we are and what we do. I really wish they could be given some scientific education about us so that they don't grow up to isolate us,” she said.

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