“I am a Hijra and it’s not my fault, should I give up living?”
Revathi and Akkai belong to a sexual minority and are now working tirelessly to secure more rights for others like them who find it difficult to live mainstream lives.
“I am a Hijra and its not my fault, should I give up living?” Words that came out from Revathi’s mouth may indeed be touching, but today, she is not apprehensive of any consequences, neither scared of what her destiny has to unfold in days to come. “Today, people are at least all ears when I talk to them; this wasn’t the case when I came here many years ago. I am a native of Namakkal, Tamilnadu.”
Well, it’s not only the case with Revathi, but for all her peers who belong to what this sexual minority. In retrospect today, Revathi is thankful that she joined Sangama, an organization that defends the human rights of sexual minorities, several years ago. “I have been a part of Sangama for all these years, and I am very happy that I got to learn about some many things, the different facets of human society. Earlier, I was vulnerable, and was not ready to face the society, but today it hardly bothers me thinking of who I am. I have got all the qualities of a woman, but people are not ready to accept me, and I have been alienated many a times.” She adds, “But, after being a part of the organization, now I know that I’m not the only one. There are a lot like me; even women get ill treated. I guess, we still live in a male dominated world.”
In the last 11 years of her life, she has shouldered the work of a Coordinator as well as the Director, and now she handles the advocacy department of the organization. Asked on what her responsibility is, she replies, “We do a lot of crisis management. When there is a problem in the community, and it’s acute, we try coming out with a solution. I help in organizing campaigns, rallies and protests. Also,” she added, “we have got our crisis help lines. So, when there is a problem anywhere in the city, related to the sexual minority we try looking at the issue. People from this community are vulnerable and are often exploited.”
Revathi, who has been a sex worker herself feels that many of the people, especially the Hijras and the Kothis get into prostitution because, prostitution becomes one of the few and limited sources of income for them. “I think, the only two things that Hijras can do are either be a sex worker or start begging. I had chosen the former, and there are thousands like me,” said Revathi rather quietly, thinking of the years that have passed by.
Social in acceptance of the Hijras and Kothis by the society have left a lot of them with no other means of livelihood. Sangama, as an organization, not only works for the uplift of these people, but also helps in educating them on the socially relevant issues. “I didn’t know a lot of the things before I had joined here. But now, having been with them in all these years’ I have learnt so much that now I feel I can do anything by my own. I want my peers, too, to understand this.” She said, “Sangama may or may not be there in the coming years, but there will be people in the community. I want them to be educated and well equipped, so that they can handle things on their own.”
Sangama works for the working class non-English speaking minorities who otherwise have very little access to resources. Akkai Padmashali, a coordinator from the information department, “when you are rich and come from a well-to-do family, there are not a lot of problems that you face. The problem is with the poor, the non-English speaking people. They are helpless and there is nothing they can do about their plight. They are exploited at all times, which compel them to get into all kinds of unsocial activities like begging and prostitution.”
Sangama started with Crises Intervention that provided twenty four hours support to the community by actively intervening during the crises faced by the community. Today, the organization has a crises intervention team in place along with a full time legal support. “We are available to help people from our community 24/7. We have got helpline numbers where they can call us and inform about the incident, and we accordingly co-ordinate with the other members from the organization to go and resolve the situation. When there is a legal issue, we have our advocates who look into the issue.”
Although, section 377 has been reworded by the Indian Court, acceptance of these sexual minority people still seems to be a mirage conception. However, hope, is what still lingers onto a lot of their mind. “It’s a historical judgement, and I am glad that the court has finally passed the verdict. But there is not a lot of change among the people, we are still given a celestial look every time we step out of our house. But if we have come so far, I am sure that day is not far when we can live our life, just like any other being in the world,” concluded Akkai.