By Sudeep Shenoy
Mangalore, Apr 24: Just a small stroll on the busy streets of Hampankatta or the Central Railway station and you’re sure to encounter a special group of people begging for alms. Calling them beggars would be an added insult to their dignity, which has already been torn apart to shreds by the stigma prevalent in society. These are the transgenders, sometimes referred to as Hijras. According to the law of the land, all men and women are equal. Due to this very definition, the transgenders are stuck at a point where they are not able to reap the benefits of either one of these structures.
On one such visit to the railway station, I happened to encounter a transgender. The way she came menacingly towards me did manage to instill a sense of fear in me. But then, I gathered all my courage and decided to have a peek into their lives. Rashmi (as she introduced herself later) seemed reluctant to answer my questions and insisted that I give her some cash first. I had no choice but to oblige. After that she seemed more forthcoming to answer my questions. She called me aside to a spot where we could sit and chat, and also signaled to two of her other friends (transgenders as well) to join her.
In the meantime, I continued to get weird stares from people around us. Seeing a normal person converse for more than a few seconds with a transgender was something out of the ordinary for them. They saw me as a person who must have lost his sanity. Yet the sly smile on others faces was evident enough to make me guess that they thought I was desperately in need of physical satisfaction. This mentality among people, I realized during my conversation with these transgenders, is making their life miserable.
Here are some excerpts from the conversation:
Me: Where have you come from?
Rashmi: Well I have come from Sirsi in Uttara Kannada district, and Sushma is from Bijapur whereas Prameela is from Hassan.
Me: How did you people reach here? And why Mangalore?
Rashmi: We had heard about this place from many people, and that it is a developing city, so we thought we had better prospects here. I reached here travelling by train.
Me: How do you earn your living?
Rashmi: We go around places begging for alms from people. We are fortunate enough that we earn sufficiently for survival in Mangalore. But sadly that’s not the case in all cities, and especially with regard to big cities and metros, where people of our kind have to resort to prostitution in order to survive.
Me: Do you think the Government schemes are benefitting you?
Rashmi: (looks towards Sushma and Prameela. All look confused) What scheme? We do not know of any scheme. In fact, we are totally neglected by the Government, whichever party is ruling. We do not have a ration card or voters id. Amidst everybody, we are nobody!
Me: How many of you are around here in Mangalore?
Rashmi: Well it’s hard to say. We don’t have any proper count. But for sure, there are more than 50 of us.
Me: Have you faced any problems by the people?
Rashmi: Loads of times. Wherever we go, we are shunned by the people. Also, many make fun of us and tease us. Some of them even try to sexually harass us. But there is no hope for us, because the cops don’t really entertain our complaints. In fact, many a times, we face problems from these cops themselves, who shoo us away from everywhere. In this regard, dogs are better. At least they manage to find shelter somewhere. But we are homeless. We find it extremely difficult, especially during the rainy season, where our makeshift shelters do not sustain.
Me: But what about the railway station? Don’t you manage to find some shelter around this area itself?
Rashmi: Not really. We are sent away from here as well.
Me: How do you perceive the future? Do you foresee any change?
Rashmi: The past has been extremely dark for us, the present is a bit better, so we are hopeful of a better future. But, we do not depend on anybody for any change. It’s only the people’s mentality that needs to change.
Me: What do you think are the reforms needed in society?
Rashmi: Like I already said, it’s the people’s mentality that needs to change. Once the people begin to feel that even we are human beings like them, everything will be fine. Also, I only wish the Government provided us with employment… Even if it is some sweeping work, we are ready to do it. (Sushma and Prameela nod their head in agreement)
With this, I ended my conversation with Rashmi, but not before her blessing me and wishing me luck for my future endeavors. This is when I realized that despite the horrifying looks, the transgenders are polite and soft-natured, and that it is the society which drives them to be what they have become. For any positive change to happen in the lives of these transgenders, it is imperative that the outlook of the society changes.
Image for display purpose only.