Vijayata, who left her home in Jalpaiguri when barely 15, knows how to make a good cup of masala chai and serves it in neat China cups. Factory workers in the city’s Industrial Area rush to her stall to replenish their strength and she is ‘didi’ to all.
A little farther away, pretty and dainty Srishti, born in a village near Darjeeling, sits beneath a tree selling tobacco and sweets, and goes about her business in earnest to help out her male partner in the household expenses. Some years ago Mohini from Jharkhand too set a little shop like Srishti’s near a popular mall and is able to support herself.
These members of the third sex are neither interested in the traditional wedding or child-birth ‘badhai’ (felicitations) and a bargaining for remuneration in cash and kind, nor in the security of living in a ‘dera’ (commune). They have chosen to go solo the hard way.
“I just could not be a sex worker or go house to house seeking alms. I chose physical labour, even when I was in the village with my parents and later, when I ran away to Delhi because my identity had become an embarrassment to my family. I was lucky to find a partner and together we moved to Chandigarh. When I set up this stall, I prayed that I should have the strength to work on the road. Early years were difficult, but now I am accepted in this role,” said Srishti.
Vijayata, a transwoman of substance, chose destination Chandigarh inspired by a 1980 film ‘Aasha’ in which actor Rameshwari comes to the City Beautiful to work as a teacher. “I had studied only till Class 8 and could not teach so I did odd jobs and worked in Shimla and Ambala too before settling down here. Even ‘badhai’ is work, but I had never known it so I did not wish to get into it,” she says.
A Krishna devotee, she has been in the city for some 25 years and is an inspiration for others. Not only did she start her own business, but has also adopted an orphan child and named him Vishnu, who is an adult and helps his ‘mother’ in the tea business. Unlike Srishti, Vijayata has the support of her parental family now and they live with her in a UT village.
It was Vijayata who advised young Mohini, who was moving from one city to the other seeking work. “I told her to stay here and start a small business,” she says. Mohini too has found her vocation and hopes her work will grow some day.
Founder of Saksham Trust that supports the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) community Dhananjay Chauhan says, “The effort of the trust is to bring transgenders into mainstream society and not be the ‘queer’ ones always.”
He points out that several other transgenders are working in skilled and professional jobs and others are going for higher education. “Women like these have made the best of their limited educational and financial resources to realise their self-esteem,’ he said. Significantly, both Vijayata and Srishti had represented Saksham at a policy-making conference in New Delhi in 2012 that paved the way for the recognition of the third gender by the SC in April 2014. However, they say: “We still have a long way to go. We need equality, skills, houses and ration cards. Government needs to pay more attention to the sexual minority groups that are often the most abused and exploited.”