Kozhikode (Kerala): Kalki Subramaniam is a transgender activist, artist and poet. She was one of the moving forces behind the Supreme Court judgment that gave rights to transgenders in the country. Subramaniam was in the city to participate in the 2nd edition of International Conference on Gender Equality (ICGE).
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: You recently wished on a public platform for a Bill Gates coming from the transgender community. How realistic are you on this issue?
A: I said this at the 2nd International Conference on Gender Equality with 100 per cent conviction. After the Supreme court recognised our community in 2014, there are more and more children from the community taking up technical and software education. Many are employed well in the software sector. Hence, I want that in the future you see people from the transgender community scaling great heights to become software entrepreneurs and world leaders in the field. So I am being totally realistic.
Q: Generally you find people from the transgender community reclusive and not forthcoming, but you are very confident on public forums and even very pro-active and articulate. Where do you derive this confidence from?
A: Everything starts with the family. In case of most transgender people, the family support is missing, and they are even thrown out on the streets. Even if they are allowed to stay put, they are never recognised and are kept away from family celebrations and auspicious occasions. However, in my case, it was in the reverse. Even though my parents were not educated, they supported me fully and gave me good education. This gave me the confidence and led to strengtheningin my articulation skills. And so, I am where I am. Both my sisters and mother are highly supportive of me, even after my father passed away 15 years ago.
Q: What do you feel is the biggest steps to be taken by authorities to ensure equality for the transgenders in society?
A: Sensitising teachers and police on transgender populace is an important step for the government to take so as to bring respect to our community in the country. If you sensitise teachers, it will lead them to teach a large number of children on the subject. It will in turn lead to major transformation among students. Police also has to be sensitised so that they act quickly whenever any transgender is the target of any crime. These are two steps the government should immediately take to reduce atrocities on the transgenders.
Q: You are heading an organisation 'Sahodari' for the welfare of the transgender community. What are your activities?
A: We conduct awareness programmes among community members on government support available to them as also build up confidence in them. We are also into production and sale of artefacts. However, since we don't have any support from the governments or corporates, our programmes are very limited.
Q: During the lockdown, the government of India announced some schemes for you. Can you explain?
A: The government of India announced Rs 1,500 for each transgender through direct bank transfers. According to the 2011 census, we have around 5 lakh transgenders but only around 2,000 may have actually got the money. The reason is the lack of awareness in the community. It has to be seriously worked on. Interestingly, there could be more than 30 lakh transgender people in India. It is thus difficult for us to spread awareness across the community with the meagre resources we have.
Q: What are your major activities among the transgender people as you are a sort of an icon for the community?
A: I am mainly into sensitising schoolchildren. I have single-handedly spoken to more than a million students across the country on transgender issues. I get calls from these students, who have since grown up and themselves become entrepreneurs. They are employing transgender people in their organisations. I consider it a major achievement for all my work within the community -- converted a young generation from 'transphobic' to 'transfriendly'.
What are your future goals?
A: I haven't set any goals as such, but of course I will see to it that transgender community is educated, and they are not looked down upon by society. We also want entrepreneurs to come from it. Another major point that I would like to say to powers that be is to sensitive the bureaucracy during training so that they get a basic idea of what we are and what our problems are.
(From IANS with minor edits)