Kochi Metro leads the way: Transgenders appointed as employees, but accommodation remains a concern

On 17 March, three transgenders were attacked by the local police outside a bus station in Thrissur that evoked an outcry from the civil society across the state. The police had suspected the three to be troublemakers and thrashed them in the middle of the road until they fled for their lives. One among them was Raga Ranjini who had to be later hospitalised along with her friends for the alleged caning that they received from the cops that night.

Two months down the lane, Ranjini is gearing up for a completely new life. Thanks to the Kochi Metro which is awaiting its official launch by the Prime Minister of India, Ranjini and 22 others like her are all set to be the proud first-time transgender employees in any government supported project anywhere in the country.

After all the hardships she went through, Ranjini finds it difficult to hide the joy. “For us it is a new life no doubt. All this time we were doing some petty jobs which were all temporary and had to take a lot of harassment along with it. Now I look forward to leading a normal life like any other person around me. It is just an amazing feeling,’’ Ranjini told Firstpost.

The transgenders employed by the KMRL at Ambattukavu metro station.

The transgenders employed by the KMRL at Ambattukavu metro station.

Ranjini would be in the first batch of transgenders sitting at the ticketing counter of one of the stations at the Kochi Metro.

If for Ranjini it is financial empowerment that the Kochi Metro is providing, for others like Faisal Faizu it opens up a new world of acceptance and respectability. Faizu had been a sex worker since she started fending for herself.

“I never wanted to be a sex worker. It is not that we love to stand in the streets for long hours looking for customers. But then we had little options. Nobody would give us work the moment they meet us. We had to survive somehow. I think it is here that Kochi Metro is making a huge change in our lives,’’ Faizu told Firstpost.

Faizu has been selected as a part of the housekeeping staff and would be looking after the cleanliness of the stations. Coming from one of the poorest fishermen colonies of Chavakkad in Thrissur, Faizu tells us that the major part of her life had been a bitter battle.

“Life was so tough you know. You don’t get any acceptance from your family, your school. I dropped off after fifth grade unable to bear the harassment. But you know I fought through. Unlike many others I refused to abandon my family even when they didn’t want me,’’ added a teary-eyed Faizu.

Today, Faizu takes immense pride when she says that her entire family of a brother, father and mother are dependent on her income. She also adds that her family which once disowned her, now does not make any crucial decision without asking her.

Undoubtedly, each and everyone among the 23 transgenders have a story of their own. A story of despair, and harassment till the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL), the company that owns and runs the Metro in Kochi, came into the picture.

Elias George who is the managing director of the KMRL and the brain behind turning this company into an empowerment tool says it was a well-concerted effort to involve the transgender community in one of the state’s most prestigious projects.

George says it was a conversation with the city police commissioner who was narrating the plight of the transgenders in the city that triggered off the idea.

“See when we are spending so much on a prestigious project like the Kochi Metro, we thought it would be a good vehicle to marry a socially desirable objective also to it. That’s how the idea was born. We also thought that if we took some of them on-board, it would open the doors for other companies to follow which would finally get them a lot of social respectability. So far it has been fantastic,’’ Geroge told Firstpost.

Apart from giving the transgender community a new meaning to life, the Kochi Metro is also setting yet another benchmark. Perhaps it would be the first Metro in the country that would have a huge women workforce whose primary job would be on duties inside the station.

About 780 women are being recruited, of which 682 are from Kudumbashree, a self-help group supported by the state government and comprising of women, some of whom are from the poorest backgrounds in the state.

George says the whole idea was to take out the hegemony of private companies from transport services. “Why should you add to some private company’s profits when you can pay the same to some poor women and make a better life for them? We are so excited about this because from whatever we have seen the quality of work offered by the Kudumbashree women is far superior to what any private company in India can provide,’’ added George.

Seven lucky ones among these women are doing a unique job at the Metro. They are set to run shoulders with their male counterparts in running the trains. They are the Train Operators (TO) of the Kochi Metro.

Gopika SS is just out of her college having done a diploma at the Government Polytechnic College in Ezhukone. Coming from a middle class family in Kollam, she only had the objective of getting a job as all girls for her age do after finishing her graduation. But KMRL opened a completely unexpected avenue for her.

“What attracted me is the huge responsibility that comes along as a train operator. Initially out of college, I had only thought of getting a job which is close to what I have studied. But when Kochi Metro called for people I was very excited about the opportunity and the profile of the company,’’ Gopika told Firstpost.

Anju Harsha Kumar, who is from the capital city, is also a fresh B-Tech graduate. She says that though her family initially had apprehensions about the job since it involved running trains, she was too excited to let the opportunity slip away.

“I always loved the railways. But here you are getting a chance to work in a much more technically advanced environment. That is what excited me,’’ added Kumar.

Gopika and Kumar are among the seven others who had been specially trained at Bengaluru for a few months before taking up the task in Kochi. Today, they are running trial runs across Kochi city eagerly waiting for the Prime Minister of India to flag them off for the real deal.

Concerns Remain

For the 23 transgenders, however, getting an accommodation in Kochi is still an uphill task. Since most of them come from the satellite towns and villages located far from the city they are worried about the early morning and late night travels which recent history had proved to be unsafe for them.

With a society that is yet to fully assimilate them into the mainstream, the occasional harassment while travelling is something they still have to put up with. Worse, Kochi seems to be turning its head away when it comes to giving the transgenders a home.

“It is just impossible for me and my partner to get a home. They will either say neighbours will create trouble or how do we really know that your intentions are right. At hotels, the staff tells us not to wander in the lobby when other guests are around. So we have a job now, but where do we live?’’ asks Ranjini.

Faizu says that it would be tough for them to continue in the long run if KMRL or the government does not help them find an accommodation in the city.

“We are all thrilled about this job and we all want to continue in it as much as possible. But if you want us to report for work on time, we need a place to sleep also which people are not ready to give,’’ added Faizu.

The KMRL has, meanwhile, promised to address the issue in the days to come.

“There is a genuine problem here. You cannot expect people to change their mindsets so fast. So we have decided we will address the issue in the best way possible. We have made this beginning and we want it to go in the right direction,’’ added the KMRL MD.


Updated Date: May 23, 2017 20:49 PM

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