Linkages: Linking for a dignity

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“I always felt like a girl” reflected Golu aka Sitaram Jaiswal aka Sita who identifies herself as kothi* and is now a regular visitor to Thane Linkages Drop-In-Center (DIC). “My family migrated from Uttar Pradesh to Thane in search of livelihood a couple of decades ago, though I was born in Thane itself.” she mentioned. Always subjected to verbal abuse for her feminine gender expression, she added “I struggled to complete my basic schooling because of the constant bullying in school, I even got in a couple of fights with my class mates but then I gave up.”

Sita regularly frequents trains and other places with her hijra friends for ‘badhai’ (seeking alms) and dance functions. “Though I am not yet a part of the hijra community, I am very close to the hijra community and have many friends there.” she said “I cannot permanently live with my hijra friends as I have my parents to take care of. I dress up in female attire only when I am in ‘badhai’ or dance functions. Once I am back home, I go back to dressing into more masculine clothes.” added Sita.

Initially she was hesitant to visit the DIC, but then she became comfortable with the staff at DIC and took the services provided to her at the clinic. When she was extended an invitation to a community event being organised at the DIC, she participated enthusiastically. “I come here almost every second day now”, added Sita excitedly. Meanwhile, Sita also worked as a housekeeper during the day and she liked the job very much, but insensitive comments from her colleagues regarding her feminine behaviour made her feel isolated and forced her to change jobs frequently. Distressed by her instability at any job due to the workspace insensitivity she encountered, she approached the training officer of Thane Linkages to express her grievance and seek a solution. The training officer at Thane, Mr. Vijay who also happens to be a seasoned community member, then got in touch with a few journalists, bar association members and other community leaders who could help Sita secure a job. On the second day, the training officer got a call from Sodexo HR department. They were referred to Mr. Vijay by a transgender leader from Mumbai and were urgently looking for filling up a vacancy for the position of housekeeping assistant from the transgender community. The HR department, through the training officer, got in touch with Sita and since they needed to fill the position urgently for housekeeping position in Godrej Corporate Building (Sodexo manages the recruitments of Godrej), she was called for the interview just the next day.

Sita went for the interview to Sodexo HR office. Her interview went remarkably well and was successfully recruited for the job. She has been allowed the freedom to dress up in female attire during her office hours, something which she has always looked forward to. Furthermore, she was also instructed that if she wants to dress up only during office hours, the company will provide a different changing room for her if she wishes. Sita presently is in a job which provides her the right to dress and express her gender the way she wants without being discriminated and a permanent job with all the benefits.

But some stories do not end as happily for people with different gender expressions and identities. According to the National Human Rights Commission Report on the living conditions of transgender people, 92% of India’s trans people are unable to participate in any economic activity. Mostare not as fortunate to find an inclusive workplace environment. Also, as per the World Bank report 2016, India’s loss in GDP due to homophobia and transphobia up to $32 billion, or 1.7% of our GDP, proving that discrimination and stigma at work place actually hurts our economy harshly. In fact Lee Badgett, author of World Bank report, believes that India’s loss in GDP is actually far more than the reported and mentions “Other kinds of costs that are not in the study include the brain drain cost; people leaving India because of the stigma of being a LGBT person […] So there are lots of things I cannot take into account. If I could, it would simply add to my estimate and make it larger; that’s why I believe my numbers are conservative.”

The law has been won, but the fight against discrimination and stigma is far from over. It’s time we create an inclusive work environment where one’s talent and skills is the basis of an employer’s judgment of a person, not someone’s gender expression or identity.

(*Kothi: refers to cis men who show varying degrees of being effeminate. They prefer to take the feminine role in same-sex relationships)

The author of this blog is Sylvester Merchant who is an Advocacy Officer from Gender, Sexuality and Rights Team at Alliance India for the Linkages Project

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