International Women's Day is celebrated every year on March 8th to appreciate and celebrate women and their works around the world. One community of people who continue to be disregarded or overshadowed from these celebrations are transwomen. Their contributions, efforts, and their existence as a whole have often been set aside from the mainstream despite lakhs of them making up our country's population.
According to a study conducted by the National Human Rights Commission in 2018, 96 per cent of transgender people are denied jobs and are forced to take low-paying or undignified work for their livelihood. The community was also deprived of the right to participate in any form of economic activity in the country, with even qualified ones refused jobs.
This women's day, The Logical Indian talks to Miss Sarita Shukla, who has dedicated her life and resources to uplifting the transgender community in Delhi. Working with the community since 2013, she has seen them grow past their struggles and hardships to earn an identity for themselves in a society that is largely ignorant of their capabilities.
Project Astitva For Transgender Persons
28-year-old Sarita, a master's student in gender studies, started her career in social work back in 2010. She used to observe the work conducted around the community and realised a lot of efforts were focused on documenting them than working on the field with them. Sarita was among those who wanted to bring a change in this system and work for the community's welfare.
Right from her initial years of social work, she worked with organisations for disadvantaged communities, such as female sex workers and migrant labourers, among others. Sarita joined the non-governmental organisation Pahal in 2013, and it was here that she got to interact with a transgender person for the first time. She cherishes that interaction to date and lovingly refers to her as "Didi" while speaking to The Logical Indian.
Didi answered most of her curiosities surrounding the transgender community and conveyed how they remain ignored by the mainstream. It was the interaction with Didi that touched her deeply and made her want to do something for the upliftment of the community. Ever since then, Sarita has been working closely with them and started a dedicated Project Astitva with the Rotary Club of Global Action for transgender persons.
Under this project, they have been trying to address two major aspects:
- What are the needs of transgender persons?
- Which all realms do they require help in?
Finding solutions to these concerns, they have been providing transgender persons with employment opportunities, healthcare, vocational training, entrepreneurial mentorship, emergency support, counselling, and grooming advice, among other aids. Together they wanted to bring a change in the system that abused, scorned and neglected the community.
Stories Of Hope & Inspiration
Today, the transgender community under the Astitva project is like her extended family. She says that everything she has been doing for their welfare does not seem like "work" anymore because these are things one would do for their family without a second thought.
Talking about this family, she narrates the stories of a few members who benefitted from the project over the years. Sanjana didi, who was orphaned as a child, worked day and night sleeping on the roads in the chilling winters. Sandhya was neglected by her own family and had to do several odd jobs to survive on her own. This was at a time when nobody even sat beside her. Surviving the neglect by her family and society, she made it through the hardships. Sarita mentions Kanika as another one of her role models. She had left her house for her family's happiness as they did not accept her for who she is.
All members of the Astitva family have gone through many such stories of pain and struggle, which can never be described in words. She tells The Logical Indian that it is from them that she had learned the real meaning of life. They smile through their hardships and hold on to their hope strongly. This has been a great source of inspiration for Sarita.
Caring for these people who are surviving on hope has been Astitva's core idea, and they have been working toward helping society understand and respect them better. The project has empowered the transgender community by training them to gain respectable and sustainable livelihoods. They have supported many of their immediate needs, such as shelter and housing.
During the pandemic, in particular, Sarita actively raised funds to buy food and supplies for the folks stuck in lockdown. She worked with the government to set up camps and cover expenses for trans people, including travel and food. She has also extended her efforts on policy levels and worked toward sensitising law enforcement to the community’s needs. Let this Women's Day be a reminder of the efforts of many people like Sarita toward recognising and appreciating the women neglected by society and their families.
Also Read: Karnataka Introduces Reservation For People From Transgender Community In Police Constable Recruitment