Vasant Kunj, Delhi, India
Vasant Kunj, Delhi, India
In this highly competitive world, where it’s so difficult to make a place for oneself, one can only imagine how daunting the situation would be for a transgender, who is subjected to social stigma, discrimination and harassment at every step and in every phase.
Sandhiya Ghavri’s journey is no different.
Sandhiya was born in a lower middle-class family in a village called Kalapeepal in Madhya Pradesh. As the first-born son, her birth brought immense joy to her parents. As she grew older, she started playing with dolls and loved to watch her mother cook in the kitchen. Her parents would often ask her to go out to fly kites or and play cricket with the boys in her neighbourhood, but she preferred the company of girls. Her parents would snatch and throw away her dolls.
Sandhiya recollects how she would look for places to hide her toys from them and how she never wanted to get a hair cut short.
As Sandhiya entered her teens, she started feeling uncomfortable around boys. She loved talking to girls and being with them. But people around her would make fun of her and no one wanted to mingle with her in school. She became a target of bullying and discrimination.
Sandhiya says she had no answers for a long time. But she had come to realise that she was a female trapped inside a male body.
Bullying and abuse followed even in her college days. She was ridiculed and called hijra and chakka. She even faced sexual abuse. When things got out of control, she left college midway. After a few months, she shifted to Indore and took up a job at a call centre. It was the same story here as well.
Days spent in anguish
Slowly Sandhiya slipped into a cocoon, fighting an internal battle between who she was and what she felt or wanted to be. Sandhiya preferred to remain aloof with no one by her side. She had left her home, leaving behind her parents and siblings.
Whenever she would go out, she would be conscious about her body language. She would walk tall with her chest help up high to reflect a masculine persona. When she spoke, she made sure to keep her voice hoarse. In other words, she feigned masculinity in every possible way to hide her reality and to protect herself from ridicule.
By then, Sandhiya had recognized that she was a transwoman. But realizing, accepting and letting the world know of this identity were three entirely different things.
A tryst with reality
Sandhiya started searching online about transgenders. She came to know of the gatherings held by the community every week. She motivated herself to be a part of these meetups and for the first time she felt comfortable in an outer space.
“For the first time, I came to know about so many trans people who had similar feelings like mine, similar story, similar struggle and similar fears. For the first time I realized that I was not alone.”
She became a regular in these meetups and got introduced to an NGO called Badlav Samiti by one of her friends.
“I expressed my desire to work and started as an Outreach Worker. My job was centred around creating awareness among the community, educating the community about risks of having multiple partners and about the importance of getting their HIV tests done, counselling them on various facets of health and wellness.”
Sandhiya got an opportunity to visit Mumbai. There she witnessed a different lifestyle of transgenders. They were happy, leading their lives independently. This was the time when the Supreme Court of India had formally recognized transgender people as the ‘third gender.’
Meanwhile the project with Badlav Samiti came to an end and Sandhiya’s became jobless. She left Mumbai and moved to Khandwa.
“I had to resort to begging on moving trains. It was morally demeaning and physically risky.”
Work and career path
“I was looking for a job but found nothing suitable. When nothing seemed to work, I chopped off my hair and took up the job of an office boy. One day through a newspaper article, my identity got revealed in my office. My boss supported me at the first instance, later he started flirting with me and tried to exploit me sexually. I had no choice but to leave the job again.”
Thankfully Badlav Samiti had some new projects and Sandhiya joined them.
And from here on, began a life that she always wanted – working for the people of her community and for the society.
During the Covid pandemic, they organized vaccination camps. They also arranged for food distribution to the community and others. Eventually, Sandhiya started getting recognized for her work. People started coming to her with confidence that she would help them.
This was a great feeling for her.
Her consistent efforts got noticed by the Department of Swachh Indore and they approached her for their projects. Soon Sandhiya got appointed as the brand ambassador Swachch Indore.
She has been an integral part of several of their projects aimed towards cleanliness and conservation.
Dustbin segregation, plastic mukt/jholadhari Indori and the more recent ‘No Thu Thu’ anti-spitting campaign are just a few.
Sandhiya is currently working as Ward Incharge with Indore Municipal Corporation.
She is also associated with Indore police, assisting the women help desk with their Urja program under which she educates women to register their cases with women officers and to come forward with other issues without any inhibitions.
The road ahead
Sandhiya says that in future she sees herself standing for LGBTQ rights and working for the welfare of her community while helping them overcome their fears of rejection. She says that they do not come forward out of the fear of being thrown away from their homes only to be rejected, ridiculed and mocked at by the society.
“Unless you accept yourself, no one else will accept you – This has been my biggest learning. And this is what I want to convey to other people.”
Speaking about social inclusion, she asserts, “Transgender is an umbrella comprising of many categories. How can we expect inclusion when there’s not enough awareness among people about these in detail? We need awareness sessions, government support and financial assistance to join the mainstream. Many of us want to be social and avail equal job opportunities. But why is it so difficult?”
“I want to say that we are not flawed people, we are like everyone else. We have feelings. We want to be happy. We want to live a successful life. We are humans. Why is it so difficult to understand?”
After much struggle, Sandhiya has paved a path for herself. She wishes to expand her area of work to other parts of the state and want to reach out to the needy in the country.
Sandhiya’s biggest regret is that she had to quit her studies. We wish her good luck that she can pursue her studies and dreams.
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