AGAINST ALL ODDS
Transgender activist Rudrani Chettri is at the heart of change. Helping local trans sex workers fight against prejudice and violence, she’s working to push against the closed minds of Indian society. Now, the soon-to-be model shares with us her remarkable story of hope.
Looking back at photos of myself, I’m amazed at my journey. I was born to grow and become a man, but I didn’t.
My sexuality always felt natural to me, but in my society who I could turn to. And the ones I could came from traditional Hijra clan. I always experimented with myself to live as true as possible, and it always felt like baby steps. My life has been a real journey of recognition and transition.
I was raised in a conventional Indian society. Being trans is hard – because of the violence and stigma against us, we’re seen to bring shame to our family. We’re often disowned and found on the streets trying to join clans. We’re then easy sexual targets, and many of us have faced severe abuse. But through all of this, I’ve grown a thick skin. I’ve learnt to ignore the taunts and focus my time positively. I’ve worked to keep believing there WILL be a change, and to stay positive for myself and for the younger transgender generation of India.
I don’t feel like a day, month or even year went by when I thought, ‘I’m transgender.’ It’s been a gradual journey, but I’ve been lucky to have a relatively supportive family. More so since the Indian Supreme Court passed a law recognising those who are trans as a third gender. This has shown a positive step in the right direction for inclusion, but also how we’re slowly working to gain more acceptance.
like me. Their primary goal is to simply to survive. Nothing has changed in this sense and, sadly, a law can’t change a thousand years of perception. I’m still encountering people disowned by their families and I still see extreme violence and abuse of trans sex workers. I recently wasn’t allowed into my local shopping mall because of my gender. But all this hate gives me hope. It’s inspired me to create the MITR Trust in 2005; a safe space where trans people can truly be themselves.
I’ve spent my younger days with charities the trans and Hijra community needed a place that was run and managed by the community itself; a place where they could express themselves and not have to worry. These places they created allowed me to feel I could be myself.
Having seen young trans people suffer with depression, and even commit suicide, I know we’ve been able to save a few lives and let them be proud.
Being shunned for centuries means that medical attention for the community has been scarce, but we now run a drop-in clinic every week, which is a safe and easy way for trans people to access health care.
Sex work and begging remain as two of people. We’re trying to work closely with both, but also help identify sex workers that are at ten partners in one night, so we try to deliver free condoms, lube and disinfectant wipes. There’s even an emergency team that deals with any violent incident that could happen while they work. The health and safety of our community still remains a real top priority.
But with a 22 per cent cut in AIDS funding in India, we’ve not received any form of regular funding in more than nine months. It means provide condoms to some sex workers. We sadly face a very real threat of closing down. being pushed back into sex work to survive. Our reach of work has also fallen by 50 per cent in the last year.
achievements has been the steadily-increasing number of people we work with. Over the years, numbers have been rising and we now work with more than 1,500 and even commit suicide, I know we’ve been able to save a few lives and let them be proud members of society. And we’re constantly working with the media to gain an increased acceptance for transgender people within the mainstream society of India.
I’ve always been outspoken in my approach to encourage every young trans person to be vocal about their right for safety, dignity and the chance of a respectable life. Spreading knowledge around a person’s basic social entitlement and rights has been key, as well as providing them with a team of community-based counsellors that deal with any issues they could have with family, sexuality, or even advice on hormone therapy and issues with their partners.
But I have goals for myself still. I always dreamt of being a model, but growing up I was never allowed to realise that dream. I’ve spent my life becoming a poster model for transgender rights and issues, and it took courage to pave the way, but I think we’re ready to gel further into the fashion world.
I want to encourage every trans person to come out and take a shot at claiming their dreams, just like I have. The fashion world is one of the strongest ways to raise awareness, society. I’m now working with people from the industry that see us as beautiful. This will have a strong impact on the self-image of the community and inspire other trans people to not give up. Fashion, in its elevated position, helps bridge the gap of acceptance with the mainstream society; and we’re hopeful about this venture.
If I were to make it onto the cover of a fashion magazine as a trans model, it’d be a total dream come true. It would be a moment discrimination and trying to gain acceptance. In the future, I’d love to see more trans models, and turn this acceptance into work to see trans faces next to male and female models on the runways. I hope we can carve our own niche and make it onto billboards and adverts everywhere in the world.
It would remind everyone about the beauty of trans. We’re made to feel like an ugly aberration, and this statement would be our pride and beauty in mainstream society.
For more on the work of Rudrani and the MITR Trust, search for “MITR Trust” on Facebook