By Nidhi Kinhal
In a landmark move in May 2017, the Kochi Metro Rail Limited had hired 23 transgender people as ground-staff. After a video featuring some of the employees telling people how to treat them went viral, Kerala has received happy, teary-eyed applause from all of us. Some of these employees were bullied in their previous jobs, and looked forward to being treated fairly. “We are proud that KMRL appointed us by accepting our identity. This is the first time we’ve got an approval and a chance to work with dignity”, one of the trans women had said. They were assigned duties in housekeeping, ticket vending, customer relations, parking, gardening, and canteens, and promised no discrimination, separate bathrooms, freedom with clothing choice– all the steps in the right direction for more trans visibility and rights.
The first signs of the problem appeared when Vincy Antony, one of the employees reported to Times of India that they were being trained to deal with customers’ abuse with patience. Moreover, recent news confirms that eight of these employees quit in just one week of service. This is because nobody would rent houses or rooms to them. Raga Ranjini, a ticket collector at Edapally station, said, “Right now I am staying in a lodge where the daily rent is ₹600. If the situation continues like this my rent will outweigh my returns.” Tripthi, part of the housekeeping staff, said, “I am staying in a one-room house on the outskirts of the city. Without an accommodation I can’t shuttle every day so I opted out.”
And this was just the first phase of absorbing transpeople into the workforce; Kerala had more plans in the works. This just goes to show that massive structural inequalities need more than just a unidimensional solution. Sure, employing marginalised folk is great, but what does that do to other aspects of their lives that are not equally supported? Transpeople face discrimination on numerous, inter-related fronts, and we need to address all the issues they face in order to meaningfully change their lives. Shifting the onus of tolerance onto transpeople instead of educating the public won’t work. Partial absorption into the workforce, and not into other public spaces, won’t work. While it’s great that the Kerala government taking path-breaking steps to better the lives of transgender people, it clearlyneeds to take a comprehensive view of the situation and look at providing housing as well as employment opportunities. After all, if we aim to secure meaningful equality and liberation for all, we need to do more.