Doraiswamy to Revathi: A Tamil writer-activist's alternative journey
Alternative sexuality is no longer a forbidden turf for the working class in smaller towns, though they have to wage fiercer battles than their metro counterparts, says A. Revathi, a popular face of southern India's sexual minority groups.
"We had to run away from our homes to find members of our own community and work for a dignified living because we were not accepted by our families unlike many of our counterparts in the metros who are affluent and their education status gives them immunity against social taboos."
A portly matron with dusky skin, the Tamil writer, actress and Dalit activist was here to release her autobiography "The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story".
With a broad smile, twinkling eyes, mass of brown shoulder-length curls and a large 'bindi' glowing on her wide brow, Revathi was born as Doraisamy in a family of five - the youngest of three brothers - in Karnataka.
Doraisamy, who loved to wear her sister's long skirts, sweep the courtyard and draw the 'kolam' (the prayer motif) every morning, was his parents' pet.
"But the boys at school, as well as the men who saw me outside the house, would call out, 'Hey, Number 9', 'female thing' and 'female boy'. Some even enquired, 'why do you wear a girl's clothes'. I understood that I was indeed that way and wanted to remain so," Revathi said.
Every day, when Doraisamy cycled his way to his evening classes, he gazed at a hill top fort with longing. One day, he decided to climb the hill on which perched the Namakkal fort. He came across a group of "transgenders", who came out of the closet in the seclusion of the hill every evening.
"They could be women here. I befriended them...and confided that I wanted to be a woman and marry an educated man," she said.
That was 25 years ago. The encounter changed her destiny. After completing Class 10, she ran away from home and found a group of eunuchs at Dindigul who took her in. Doraisamy was rechristened Revathi after one of her transgender friends remarked, "she resembled the actress Revathi".
"In my heart, I felt I was Revathi," she said.
But trodding on this path was not easy.
"I was tortured by police," Revathi said, pointing to "faint scars on her wrist" where she was caned by the establishment for being a "enunch". She was accused of indulging in "unnatural sex" under Article 377.
Revathi shot to fame after she appeared in a Tamil movie, "Thenavattu", in 2009.
"I work as an advocacy coordinator for the Sangama, an organisation that works for the rights of the sexual minorities in working classes of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, especially among those who do not speak English.
"I also campaign for Dalit rights and coordinate Medha Patkar's Narmada Bachao Anlodan - the campaign to save the Narmada - in Bangalore," Revathi said.
"I usually write poetry as a response to the suffering I see around me, but in 2004, I realised that not much has been written about the community. They did not have a voice. Our organisation, Sangama, has a large library - but all the books are in English. Most of my peers, who are school dropouts, cannot read English," Revathi said.
In 2004, Revathi published an interview-based documentary volume about her community, "Uranvum, Uruvavum"- that is the take-off point for her autobiography, "Truth About Me...".
"I spoke to 50 members of our community," she said.
She said the community suffered from "stigma, discrimination because of aberration in style, voice and height, depression, harassment, unemployment and high school dropout rates."
Revathi supports her sister's son and two of her sister's daughters. "They are like my children," she said.
The writer, who wants to play "powerful characters" in more movies, plans to write a book on the extent of the spread of HIV in her community and intervention".
Her book, published by Penguin India, was released in the capital last week.