Kochi Metro's transgender employees are quitting: Social stigma remains the overarching problem

The appointment of 23 transgenders gave Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) world-wide publicity. Even as various international agencies and media hailed it as a path-breaking initiative, the publicity has ironically confounded the miseries of the sexual minority.

While some of the transgenders, who were living in the state by hiding their real sexual identity, were forced to leave their homes, facing difficulty in finding alternate accommodation in the city. Many of those who are sticking on with the job are also finding it hard to continue the service due to lack of accommodation.

Amruta, who was appointed in the housekeeping department of KMRL at Aluva station, has taken long leave three days after she joined the service as she has not been able to find a place to sleep near Aluva. She now stays in a lodge at Ernakulam South, which is 19 kms from Aluva, by paying Rs 400 a day.

 Kochi Metros transgender employees are quitting: Social stigma remains the overarching problem

Representational image. PTI

“I cannot afford this as the KMRL is giving us only Rs 9400 per month as salary. I am unable to take up any part-time job to supplement my income as my shift keeps changing every week,” says Amruta, who lived with her mother in a rented house in a village on the outskirts of the city hiding her real identify before she was appointed in the KMRL.

Amruta used to wear shirt and trousers when she is at home, as she didn’t want her sick mother to suffer the humiliation. But the job in KMRL changed her life for the worse. She was forced to leave the house after the local people recognized her real identity from media reports and the KMRL publicity.

This is not the plight of Amruta alone. As many as 11 of the 23 transgenders appointed by the KMRL have dropped out of the job. While two did not join at all, nine have left after working for few of days. The first stretch of the metro from Aluva to Palarivattom was commissioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 17 June.

The transgenders were thrilled when they received the appointment. But their joy was short-lived after they found that they could not find a place to sleep in the city. Faizu, who has been trying to stick on with the job, said he was staying in a lodge paying Rs600 per day.

“I have been trying to rent a house along with some of my friends ever since I got the appointment. But we were turned away everywhere. All people whom we approached excused themselves saying neighbours would create trouble. Most people think we are looking for space for prostitution,” Faizu said.

She told Firstpost that most of the people continuing in the service were also facing problem. Some of them are staying in lodges paying Rs 400 to Rs.600 every day. “We brought this to the notice of the KMRL authorities but they have pleaded helplessness,” he added.

KMRL managing director Elias George was not available for comments. However, CR Reshmi, a spokesperson of the KMRL, said that the company was unable to provide the transgender employees accommodation as they were appointed under a contract given to Kudumbasree, an all-women anti-poverty mission.

“We have 628 members of Kudumbasree working in various wings of the KMRL. If we give any special consideration to the TGs, these women will also claim it. It will not be possible for us to provide accommodation to everybody. We are not an employer but a facilitator,” Reshmi told the Firstpost.

However, she said that KMRL was trying to help the transgender employees by identifying suitable space that they can hire in the city. However, the transgender activists say it will not be easy as the people in the state were still not ready to accept different gender identities.

“The Kerala government and the Kochi Metro are trying to give us an equal space in the society. But the society is still conservative. The KMRL gesture will not help the transgender people unless the society changes its mindset,” says Vijaya Raja Mallika, a transgender and transgender activist.

She pointed out that the transgenders had failed to get a private space for setting India’s first transgender school in the city. “We approached some 700 people and 51 households, and all of them turned us away. They seemed thinking that we were looking for space for prostitution,” she said.

The school could be set up after the Pro-Life initiative of the Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Council came to their help. Following the council’s intervention, the Congregation of Mother of Carmel nuns accommodated them in their facility.

Chilla Anil, head of the Kerala unit of Sangma, an NGO working for the rights of the transgenders, doubts the sincerity behind the measures taken by the government. He said many projects initiated by the government and its agencies were still remaining on paper. He pointed out that the G-Taxi proposed by the Social Justice Department for the transgenders was yet to take off.

A project for sex reassignment surgery launched by the government in medical colleges has turned controversial after a transgender, who underwent the surgery at Thiruvananthapuram Medical College, alleged irregularities in the surgical process.

Transgender activists said that the problems faced by these people were not limited to a lack of accommodation alone. They are ridiculed and abused in public places like railway stations, bus stands, schools, workplaces, malls, theatres and hospitals. They are sidelined and treated as untouchables.

Besides, they are the ones to be blamed whenever anything goes wrong in places the transgender work. For example, the accusing finger was turned towards a transgender employee when a cash shortage was found at the ticket counter of KMRL at Edappally Station two days ago.

The activists say that this sort of hostile approach was forcing many transgenders to hide their sexual identity or leave for cities like Bengaluru and Chennai where they are not treated as poorly as in Kerala. They said that the transgenders in Kerala were not even safe in their homes.

A survey by the Social Justice Department revealed that 51 percent transgenders had concealed their gender identity from their families because of the mistreatment. It showed that 78 percent transgenders have not revealed their gender identity at work due to fear of discrimination.

The survey found that the transgenders were discriminated in every aspect of life. As high as 70 percent have at least one experience of being denied a job due to their gender identity, 52 percent transgenders face harassment from the police, 89 percent reported of being mistreated at their workplaces and 28 percent have been sexually harassed or raped.

Though the Kerala was the first state in India to bring out a policy for transgenders, the approach of the society as well as some government agencies has remained the same.

Updated Date: Jun 25, 2017 11:02:52 IST