Transgenders make big business buzz

A fair gives hope for independence, fuels entrepreneurial ambitions, while shattering gender identity stereotypes

It was certainly not business as usual at Borivli’s VK Krishna Menon Academy Ground yesterday evening. The ground hosted an event that saw a cocktail of community and commerce. Called ‘The TransEmpowerment Mela — Anandi Anand Gade’, it comprised 25 stalls put up by more than 300 transgenders from across the country.

The transgender fair had a heartening response. Pic/Nimesh Dave
The transgender fair had a heartening response. Pic/Nimesh Dave

The mela began at 4.30 pm and went on till 10 pm. The opening, saw a dash of glamour with the cast of ‘Koti’, a Marathi film based on the childhood of a hijra inaugurating the event. The mela was held by Anam Prem, a community of individuals working to promote love and acceptance in the community.

Just as it opened, one saw a steady throng of people winding their way through the stalls. These were retailing handicrafts, jewellery, saris, material, knick-knacks that make gifts, make-up, nail art and mehendi. Food stalls jostled for space next to these. Traditional foods like litti chokha from Bihar, dhapatta from Kolhapur, dal dosa from Chennai flew off pans and shelves, as there were a large number of people on a day out since it was a Mahavir Jayanti, a public holiday, yesterday.

It was not all retail therapy though. Entertainment mixed with economics. Live performances by India's first transgender band called the ‘Six Pack Band’ and dances by a group called ‘Dancing Queens’ enthralled visitors.

“The aim is to make the transgender community self-dependent through dignified modes of income generation,” said Krupali Bidaye of Anam Prem.

Urmi Jadhav from Humsafar Trust, a Mumbai NGO that promotes the rights of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community, representing Dancing Queens said, “The response has been heartening. We have had a considerable number of people asking us about the wares at the stalls. The Benarasi sari stall, has proved especially popular.”

Jadhav’s fellow dancer in the group, Madhuri Sarode said, “The transgender community is associated with sex work and begging. This stereotype needs to be broken. The way to do this is through commercial avenues, small business opportunities and becoming economically independent. Mumbai Pride, had hosted a ‘Gulabi mela’, some time ago, where we had put up a chicken tikka stall which was a super hit. We are hoping to repeat that success.”

Parth Kulkarni, a Kandivli teacher who was at the mela with his family, said, “My children are seeing hijras in a new avatar which is refreshing. The food being sold is really good,” he added sampling some chocolates made by Triveni Samaj Vikas Kendra from Malwani, Malad. Nadiya Uvtukuri from the organization added, “We also hand make agarbattis, air fresheners and floor cleaners.”

Amrita Shah, Jai Hind college student who was doing her make up at a stall said, “I did a facial before this. Shabnam who did my make up, was a consummate professional. The hijras I am used to seeing, are very different from these.”

It was an eye-opener for consumers especially, who are used to an aggressive community tapping at their car windows or coercing them to part with money in local trains. Karina D’souza, IC Colony resident said, “here, they were so well spoken and thoroughly professional. It was tough to believe they were hijras."

Anam Prem’s Dr Piyanka Rai said numbers who attended the fair were encouraging. As one left the venue, it was evident that there was some success in puncturing old perceptions. The clink of coins, the rustle of currency notes was music to ears.

“I hope to set up a tiffin business, and have made some headway,” signed off Shruti T, a transgender from Grant Road, sounding upbeat just like most entrepreneurs were.

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