The fashion show theme poster
Right to Identity, Rise to DignityText Ashlin Mathew ;Images SPACE
For most 25-year-olds life is a mix of existential crises moments and quarterly-life hang-ups, but for some it is a question of survival. The latter go under the radar trying to eke out a living, and sometimes end up as sex workers. Trying to help them get respectable jobs has been the endeavour of a few, including the Embassy of Netherlands, whose activities in India follow the Netherlands’ worldwide policies, one of which is to provide assistance to the marginalised segment of the LGBT community.

A comfortable space

Anu’s case isn’t special or extraordinarily unique, but that doesn’t make it any less harrowing. Realising that staying at home was stifling, Anu, as he likes to be called, came to Delhi when she was 19 in 2010 to be herself. “I have been cross-dressing since my Class IX days, but only behind closed doors. When one is young that is how it happens, but as you grow older it is difficult to hide the person you are. So I ran away from home in Sikandrabad, Uttar Pradesh. For a few months I worked as an attendant in a stationery store, but I had to leave the job because of the treatment that was meted out to me by some of the customers. They resorted to complaining to the owner too,” said Anu.

She had been in Delhi for six months already and Anu wasn’t ready to go home. That’s when she was introduced to the sex trade and she took it up to pay for her expenses. While on the job, a colleague informed her about the SPACE (Society for Peoples’ Awareness, Care & Empowerment), an organisation which has been working in the sectors of health, livelihood and human rights with marginalised LGBT communities since 2001. It was nothing short of home-coming for Anu. “I feel the most secure here for it provides an extremely comfortable space. We have volunteers and workers who listen to us and guidance and help is always at hand,” she adds, with pride in her voice.

Many of our community members would have a similar tale of woe; Anu’s is one of the lesser ones. She has become a volunteer at SPACE to help other transgenders take informed decisions and live a life of dignity,” said Anjan Joshi, executive director, SPACE.

Training in beauty treatment

Joshi says that Anu’s tryst with life cannot be singled out. Kanika, a 25-year-old hijra (eunuch), who engages in toli-badhai (the blessings ritual at child birth and weddings), said it does not provide enough to live in Delhi. It has forced her to enter the trade. “I have studied till Class XI and that does not even matter. I ran away from home because I was being ostracised. Being in this trade
comes with a backlog of stigma, police violence,

The audience enjoys the fashion show

Support and Celebration

Living a life of dignity is not easy for those who are from the marginalised LGBT communities; they are stigmatised at work places, educational organisations and recreational centres. “We needed our community members to be trained in a space where they would not feel threatened and that is why the association with the Dutch Embassy has helped the community members,” added Joshi.
Joshi was a panel member at an event organised in May 2015 by the Embassy on the occasion of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHO). Impressed with Joshi’s presentation,
the Dutch official in charge of the Small Scale Support Programme at the Embassy initiated a conversation with him and it led to the beginning of an Empowerment through skill development project in October 2015. This is a part of the Holland government’s initiative to improve human rights condition in key countries, not just India.
The project began with much fanfare when a fashion show themed “I Celebrate Who I am” was staged by the community members to mark the beginning of the association. This year-long project aims to empower the marginalised segment of the LGBT community through livelihood training. The vocation training, which was chosen based on the needs of the community, will include computer skill training and beautician courses.
“Almost all transgender persons are interested in beauty culture and dancing. Many are semi trained or self trained on these skills. The idea is to tap upon the already existing talent and skills of the community members so that in the long run it becomes a major source of income for the community. This will greatly help reduce dependence on begging and sex work,” said a spokesperson from the Embassy’s political section. The project will equip them with basic computer skills including the internet, MS Office and tally for accounting. The project will train 200 LGBT community members in a year with the hope that it will open up varied job opportunities.
With a budget of Rs 18.9 lakh, the project will have at least 50 members being trained in each quarter for a minimum of two hours a day, five days a week. “The trainers have been selected by SPACE and the participants can choose the time and day in accordance with their schedules, and once the project is over, they will train other community members,” added the Embassy’s spokesperson.

Realising hopes

Both Anu and Kanika are among those who have opted
to undergo training. “I hope to set up a parlour and the beautician training course can only aid me to achieve that goal. My parents also will be happy that I have a
respectable trade and I’ll also be able to help my sisters. It will be a community driven exercise,” said Kanika. Joy was much evident in her voice at the prospect of a dignified business.

That is what has got 21-year-old Junaid excited too. This masseuse, who moonlights as a sex worker, has begun his trade to earn from lesser-risk jobs. “When I was working at the massage parlour, I would frequently get calls for more than just massages. It is an extremely high-risk environment. I have now quit that job to attend the computer classes at SPACE. Now, I attend to clients who want only massages, and only if I don’t get enough clients in a month do
I agree to sex work. With the computer skills, I hope to get a job and probably then my father would not mind my sexual orientation,” said Junaid.

Anu’s, Kanika’s and Junaid’s are a few of the many stories in the project, the goals of which are to work out happy endings—more appropriately, happy beginnings—for all of them. With good teamwork, the goals will come.

Performance at a community event
 
 
   

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