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Lok Sabha elections 2024: 'We know every vote counts and take our responsibility very seriously', says Bengaluru's transgender community

We know every vote counts and take our responsibility very seriously: Transgender people
Last Updated : 25 April 2024, 11:15 IST
Last Updated : 25 April 2024, 11:15 IST

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Bengaluru: Halfway through meeting people, cajoling them to cast their votes, 28-year-old transwoman, Riyana Raju, general secretary of Karnataka Youth Congress, paused. Relentless midday heat forced her to take shelter in the nearby bus stop at Bengaluru's Austin Town. Before long though she began conversing with a local woman waiting for a bus.

Thirty-year-old Ashwini, a housewife and a mother of two, is everything that Raju could never be. They both stand on the opposite ends of the spectrum called womanhood – while one takes it for granted, the other finds it imperative to wear it as a cloak around her, even if the sweat-soaked saree clings uncomfortably in the heat.

So, when Ashwini theatrically renounced her voting rights, stating that all politicians are corrupt anyway, Raju finally let her annoyance slip through. "That is so easy for you to say. You didn't have to fight the way we do for even our basic rights to know that our vote is the only chip we have to exchange for the barest minimum from the government. Don't throw that away so easily," she chided Ashwini.

At the other end of the town, in Malleswaram, one of Bengaluru’s oldest neighbourhoods, social and political activist, 40-year-old transwoman Mallu Kumbar too is of the same opinion: That every vote counts.

"Our community probably has the highest voting percentage, nearly 99 per cent. We take our responsibility very seriously. You don't get to see that because most of our votes are counted as male. But trust me, we are all aware that voting is a powerful opportunity for us," said Kumbar, pulling out the voter identity card that establishes her as male.

Not far from Kumbar, just off the Sri Venkataranga Ayangar Road, the arterial road that cuts through Malleswaram West, live Janavi Rai and her 'family' of six in a tiny house.

Thirty-eight-year-old Krithika, the oldest of them, narrates how she ran around just to fix her voter ID. "After all that trouble, there is no way that I will not cast my vote,” she added.

Getting any kind of identity card – be it Aadhaar or voter ID – is a problem for us, said 24-year-old Kundavi, who joined the family about seven years ago.

"Because we change our names once we shed our male identity. I haven't known a single transgender person who did not have problems when getting their identity cards made," added Kundavi, who finally got her voter ID and will be voting for the first time on April 26.

Perhaps the most heartrending story was Rai's. Not only did she complete her M.Com, she also cleared the state-level sub-inspector selection exams, she said. 'After all that, and after the promise of 1 per cent reservation for transgender people, guess what I ended up doing? What transgender people usually do – begging and prostitution. I was so heartbroken that I tried to commit suicide even. Thankfully for me, an NGO finally gave me a job,' said 29-year-old Rai.

It is while working as programme coordinator at the NGO, Rai said she understood that the real change for transgender people will happen only if the community asserts itself politically.

Kumbar said they are already witnessing some changes in this regard as transgender people have been elected, even if too few and far between, at corporation and panchayat level in Karnataka.

Raju recalled how the acceptance from the society took her completely by surprise when she began her political journey. "That is all I wanted all my life. And these were the same people who used to treat me as nothing but a sex worker and a beggar. Now, they realise that as I had experienced hardships in life, I will be able to understand theirs. They have instantly warmed up to me," said Raju.

Kumbar said to take this further, transgender people need to be given reservation – in political representation, jobs and education.

"Without representation from people who understand gender or sexuality at Parliament and state assemblies, skewed policies and laws are being devised. This is very problematic. For instance, when it comes to policies for transgender people, the focus is only on transwomen. But we comprise transmen, jogappas, pant-shirt kothis, Marladis…," said Kumbar.

Rai said transgender people have been used by politicians for really long. According to her, politicians pay a token amount to transgender people to accompany them while campaigning.

"But once the election is over, we can’t even go close to the same political leaders. Not only that. They give us Rs 2,000 to campaign for them and ask us to pay Rs 30,00,000 for a police job. This has to change too. In any case, I decided against being part of campaign teams this election," said Rai.

Kumbar feels for now the other big responsibility is choosing an ecosystem that doesn’t treat transgender people as enemies.

"Transgender people are aware how important 2024 Lok Sabha election is, we keep each other informed. We even go door-to-door to ensure everyone is on this. The contest is not between political parties, it is for the survival of our Constitution," said Kumbar.

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Published 25 April 2024, 11:15 IST

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