By Manasi Nene
With the recent Vicks advertisement that went viral, and reports of a marriage between a cisgender man and a transgender women, it seems that India is slowly becoming more and more welcoming to people who do not fit into ordinary gender norms. Now, in an even more welcome move, the Chennai Corporation, with the NGO SIP Memorial trust opened a new night-shelter for Chennai’s transgender’s community, reports The Hindu. Opened in Chetpet about a month and a half ago, this 25-resident space is already full, though there are hopes to expand.
The shelter is a welfare-to-work initiative, meant for residents who are having trouble keeping a job or a finding a place to live. The shelter also organises workshops and vocational training, to help transgender people who cannot find steady income. The main aim of this shelter is to help those who have been cast out by their families and communities, so that they can become self-sustaining.
Many people in India’s transgender community have to resort to begging or sex work – even though Tamil Nadu and Kerela are more progressive than other places in India, there is still a lot of work left to do. With inadequate promises that are hardly ever fulfilled and a lack of representation in the government, it must be remembered that ventures like this are definitely a step in the right direction, but we cannot ignore the systematic way in which a whole section is shunned and discriminated against, simply for having an identity that doesn’t fit comfortably into the mainstream.
In the same report, transgender individuals have spoken about difficulty finding jobs, getting a house, and being accepted by their families. One woman can return home only on the condition that she dress like a man; another only managed to meet her family on her brother’s wedding day. Landlords often charge higher rent for transgender people, and the lack of stable income means even lower rents can become a great hassle.
The shelter is one of 47 maintained by the Chennai Corporation, and the only one that is specifically instituted for transgender people. Since 2012, they have been working closely with NGOs to run these. This building does have its own share of problems though – distance from the city is a hindrance, and there isn’t enough room for everybody who wants to stay there.
According to Chennai Corporation, residents would be rehabilitated in four to six months, and that future plans to build such shelters would rest on the success of this one. We’re waiting to see how that goes.