Sunshine story: This eunuch troupe from Pune begs to differ

Put together by a civic employee, ten dance lovers have decided to stop begging and perform a lavani show in Pune to earn a livelihood and showcase their talent; many of them are graduates who have been denied jobs because of who they are

They have been scorned by society and rejected from jobs despite having the qualifications required for it. But this has not deterred a group of eunuchs from Pune, who have now decided that they will no longer resort to begging at signals as a means of livelihood, but will use their dancing skills to perform at shows. Put together by a concerned citizen, the group of ten eunuchs is preparing to perform the traditional Marathi folk dance lavani at Pune’s prestigious Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir tomorrow.

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The dance troupe with instructor Ravi Sangamnerkar (extreme left) and Satish Lalbhige (sitting), the Pune Municipal Corporation employee who brought them together.
The dance troupe with instructor Ravi Sangamnerkar (extreme left) and Satish Lalbhige (sitting), the Pune Municipal Corporation employee who brought them together.

What brings the group together is a common cause – a fight for dignity and the right to live in society with their heads heald high. Many from the group hold bachelor’s degrees in engineering, commerce and the like; but they have been denied jobs purely because they didn’t conform to the binary norms of gender. 25-year-old Kunal Patil, who identifies with the name Nisha, has a degree in engineering but has been unable to find a job. “I realised I was different during my school days. I even spoke to my parents about it, but they ignored me. I got a degree in mechanical engineering in 2012 and hunted for jobs. Despite there being vacancies, I wasn’t hired because of who I am. I even worked at a showroom once, but people would make fun of me and crack jokes.”

Nisha, who had been fascinated with folk dance since childhood, decided to pursue her passion and took dance lessons. She earns Rs 2,000 per stage show now and has the lead role in the lavani tomorrow.

The show poster
The show poster

Kedar Swami (23), who goes by the name Muskan and is from Kolhapur, has a similar story to share. “I have a BCom degree and tried for a receptionist’s job or a back office job. I ended up being sexually abused at work once and once on the road. When I asked the authorities to take action, they remained mum. I left my hometown and came to Pune to look for a job.”

But the job search was futile; Muskan then did a beauty parlour course and managed to start a beauty parlour which even had a female employee. But no women visited the outlet and she was forced to shut it down, and take to begging. “We are invited to an annual festival in Pimpri-Chinchwad area where they pay us R5,000. This sum is not enough to sustain a livelihood,” she said.

Empowered
While most people tend to ignore or look down upon eunuchs, it was the compassion of a Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) employee that led to the group being formed. Three months ago, Satish Lalbhige, a housekeeping staffer at Pune’s civic body, happened to notice Muskan dancing at a toll naka while returning to Pune from Kolhapur.

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The group has been practising for eight hours a day for the last two weeks.
The group has been practising for eight hours a day for the last two weeks.

The 40-year-old told mid-day, “I saw a eunuch dancing to some Bollywood music at the toll naka. I couldn’t help but approach them and ask for their phone numbers. Initially, I thought I could help them get a job in the city. But, later, when I interacted with them and learnt of their experiences, I realised it was better if I give them a platform to showcase their talent. This will also create awareness in the minds of citizens, about their art and their lives.”

Lalbhige formed the group of ten eunuchs to give them an identity in the city, and also engaged a professional lavani instructor, Ravi Sangamnerkar, to teach them the dance form. Sangamnerkar praised the group for their zeal and their quick grasping powers, and has worked with them to better their postures and even taught them a few Kathak moves. Lalbhige is using his own savings to pay for the auditorium’s rent.

For the love of dance
The group believes it is the love for dance and the arts that will allow them to shine. Shiv Lokhande aka Shivani, who has a BA degree in History and hails from the Marathwada region of the state, added, “After Lalbhige approached us, we like-minded eunuchs came together. For the last two weeks, we have been practising at a house in Narayan Peth for eight hours every day. Ravi sir is helping us a lot and we are watching videos of lavani dances.”

Nisha signed off on a message of hope and positivity. “Some of my relatives think being a eunuch means we can only earn by begging or through the flesh trade. But we, too, have the arts in us; we can do a lot in life and we just need a platform to express ourselves.”

And there can’t be a better platform than an auditorium named after a man who achieved fame for playing female roles in Marathi plays.

Qualified, but jobless

>> 25-year-old Kunal Patil, known as Nisha, graduated as a mechanical engineer in 2012, but was unable to find a job since she is a eunuch. He will perform the lead role in the lavani

>>
 Kedar Swami (23) aka Muskan got a BCom degree in 2008 and even did a beauty parlour course. She has been denied jobs multiple times and people refused to visit her beauty parlour, forcing her to shut it

>>
 Shiv Lokhande alias Shivani (21), from Marathwada, has a BA in History. She is keen on teaching history to students and would even take home tuitions. But the children made fun of her, so she quit

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