The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the transgender community in India on the brink of poverty, with most of them struggling with a lack of steady income and food. They were among the hardest hit vulnerable populations who were dealing with immense mental stress due to the livelihood crisis. But things are not the same for Shaina Banu, a transwoman from Chennai.
Transgender Tasty Hut
Banu became a role model for transgender people when she started her entrepreneurial venture - 'Transgender Tasty Hut' in March 2021. After facing emotional turmoil and economic hardships throughout her life, she finally tasted independence. Many college students loved eating at her shop when educational institutions were operational.
Compared to other stores, delicious food is available at low prices in her stall. Veg biryani is available for 30 rupees, chicken biryani for 50 rupees and chicken 65 for just 35 rupees.
However, the persistent stigma and a second COVID induced lockdown robbed her of the provisional peace she would make with destiny.
Banu had a pushcart in 2019, but she shut it down due to some circumstances. As a second attempt, she set up a canteen. The business was doing good in the beginning, just before the second COVID lockdown. But it significantly dropped during the second wave. She used to hardly earn Rs 150 a day compared to her previous income of Rs 500 to Rs 600, The New Indian Express reported.
Social Media Comes To Rescue
But thanks to social media, which revealed its generous nature and took the role of an active 24x7 helpline. A recent post by activist Shalin Maria Lawrence came as a beacon of hope for Banu and helped her gain customers from across the state.
After the news went viral, YouTubers and influencers from Tirutani, Coimbatore and other districts dropped by her store to promote it on their platforms and channels. The outpouring of love from netizens has assured her that all is not lost.
With social media stepping up for her, Banu's business seems to be picking up steadily. "Earlier, people would pass by the store and pretend like it doesn't exist. I even introduced meals comprising mixed rice and biryani, but there was no response. Six out of 10 boxes would go to waste. I was not able to sell even one milk packet in a day. I went into depression and was frustrated with myself for not being able to make money," she said.
"But today, I empty two to three milk packets a day to prepare tea and coffee. Quick bites are fast-moving in the evenings, and I am now planning to introduce breakfast items too. I keep my shop open on Saturdays, expecting customers," she said.
While having a steady income has always topped her list of priorities, Banu hopes to start a restaurant and employ people from her community.
Having studied only till class 10 has not stopped the entrepreneur from being a student of life. Her love for connecting with fellow beings and an intense curiosity to know the world's ways have been the driving forces of her life.