COVID-19 pandemic has brought the entire world to a standstill. With millions being pushed into poverty and job losses impacting the lives of the country's daily wage earners particularly the transgender community.
Several media reports highlighted the ordeal of the community amid the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
The community members who have been resorting to begging in public spaces and performing during celebrations had already been fighting societal challenges and discrimination but the coronavirus crisis has rendered them jobless and homeless; to fend for themselves.
For the transgenders, there is also negligible social security to handle crisis situations as most of them do not have any ID to avail government aid and benefits. This is mostly because they are often excluded as they use a different name and gender to the one they were assigned at birth and don't exist on databases or are migrants.
Lack of access to public health care during the pandemic, poverty and deprivation has affected the psychological wellbeing of the transgender community. Financial insecurity and the inherent stigma has intensified amid the outbreak with the community being considered as the carrier of the virus and has been creating significant mental stress among them.
However, a history professor in Tamil Nadu's Thoothukudi has been working towards bringing a change in the lives of the transgenders as he started training them on folk dance and performing arts, to bring them at par on social status.
Dr M Sankar who is an assistant professor at VO Chidambaram College is behind this initiative and said that the at least 13 transgenders have been trained in local dance forms including Parai Attam and Karagaattam.
"They are now being trained for Poikkal Kuthirai. Soon they will be trained on Oyil Aattam, Theru Koothu, Marakaal Aattam, Silambaattam, Sattai Kuchi and Kaliyal Aattam," M Sankar told The New Indian Express.
Transforming the lives of Transgenders - Professor in Tuticorin— iVyasa (@ivyasaa) August 26, 2020
- Tamil Nadu History professor's gracious moves uplift transgender lives https://t.co/MgjAzyhnPR News @ivyasaa #life #transformation #Livelihood #transgender #tuticorin #thoothukudi #Professor #iVyasa @ivyasaa pic.twitter.com/pHfSSc4d6k
Speaking about the dance forms, the professor said although 1,200 folk art forms were mentioned in Tamil literature, only 120 of them are known and among them, only a few are being performed.
It has also been a step towards reviving the lost folk dance forms that would bring awareness about the rich culture of the state. He said that the transgenders would be trained on the now nonexistent Kai Silambaattam, Annakodi Aattam, Aaliaattam, Irular Aattam, Lavanya Paadalgal, Urumi Melam, Ottaga Aattam and other dance forms.
The training session is being conducted every day for two hours at Otha Tsunami Temple Ground for the past few weeks. Shankar pointed out that the members have been enthusiastic about their learnings and have been graceful in their efforts to learn the dance forms.
In Tuticorin a Folk art Club is Created by Transgenders with the Help of Founder Dr. Sankar, founder of Saha Kalai Kulu and the arts club named as 'saki'@Sandy_Nanduri @Actor_Vivek pic.twitter.com/rVclPCQMLY— வெங்கடேஸ்வரி (@venkat200798) August 16, 2020
"I would say trans people, in general, perform folk dances in an elegant and beautiful manner. I believe they are inherent dancers. With regular practice, they can become professional folk artistes," said Sankar, who has been performing traditional folk dance forms since 2004.
The country's second transgender advocate, Viji, who is reportedly the Founder and Managing Trustee if Anbu Trust that worked towards identifying the transgenders for the training told the publication that this was to bring a social change in the community.
The team has been working on long-term solutions that would enable the transgenders to earn a dignified livelihood would also keep them away from anti-social activities. This would also help them get rid of being seen in the bad light and the stigma attached to the community since a very long time.
"Becoming a folk artiste would make them feel empowered. After training, the transgenders will be roped in for Sahi Folk Arts Club, a club dedicated for transgender folk dancers, she added.
Sankar narrating the schedule said that counselling sessions are also conducted for half an hour prior to the training session. This is to work on removing their inhibitions and to make them feel appreciated.
"During dance programmes, they are expected to show flesh and such an act shows them in a bad light," he pointed out.
Sankar's team has been working on improving the overall living conditions of the participating transgenders. Reportedly, these members will be registered with the Tamil Nadu Department of Art and Culture.
The registration will enable them to get benefits from the government including offers to perform in government and private functions, according to the professor. This would be in addition to the opportunities they get to perform during Dussehra, Deepavali, Pongal and temple festivals.
Aarthi, one of the participants, said: "I hope I would get income regularly when I become a professional."