Five years ago, when Meghna finally decided to speak out her heart to her family – she was shown the door. The justification was simple – “Society wouldn’t accept it.” The term ‘transgender’ was not yet common in metro-cities, let alone be accepted in a tier-2 city like Bhubaneswar.
“I was aware of the repercussions of informing my family. But, there was no point in hiding anymore. I had to accept the truth. I had to accept my identity,” says Meghna Sahoo.
Born in Odisha’s Khurda district as the eldest of three brothers, Meghna’s childhood was a difficult one. Her father, the only earning member of the family, was a truck driver and it would often get difficult for them to manage a square meal a day.
In search of better livelihood, the family shifted to Bhubaneswar, and Meghna, aware of the financial situation of her family, gave her best in studies.
But, owing to her physical features, it wasn’t an easy road for her at school.
She shares, “The backbenchers would make inappropriate comments at me, mock at my physical features. I would hate it, but couldn’t do anything. Even I failed to realise why I was this way.”
Despite the jeering from classmates, Meghna continued with her studies and completed her intermediate. By the time she entered into an undergraduate course, she had started working simultaneously as a medical lab technician to fund her studies.
“I was getting uncomfortable with myself. By graduation, I had completely squeezed myself. I started reacting in an excessively ‘manly’ way to show that I was also a male. I would be over cautious with the way I would walk and talk so that people acknowledged me as male. The harassment during school time was still fresh in my memory, and I didn’t want my studies to get affected anymore,” she says.
The idea to behave over-manly clicked–at least Meghna thought so – and that gave her a good reason to pursue MBA.
After finishing studies, she grabbed a job in a top medical company where she earned close to Rs 30,000 per month.
“Everything seemed to get back on track when the inevitable question was raised. My family started pressurising me to get married. That was the moment I realised that I couldn’t marry a girl. When I refused, my family started hurling abuses and questioned my sexual orientation,” Meghna says.
She continues, “If I was being questioned even after squeezing myself for so many years and people had already realised that I behaved like a girl despite trying to act over-manly, I decided I would no longer hide my identity, and finally, I accepted myself.”
The next sequence of events was exactly as Meghna had predicted – she was asked to leave the house and terminate all relations with her family. A couple of months later, she was asked by the multi-national company to quit the job as she had started sporting long hair.
“I had no job, no family. So, I decided to go to Delhi. With the help of my friend and the little money I had saved, I decided to accept myself first. I underwent surgery to change my gender. From hormone therapy to laser treatment and breast enhancement – I went through it all.”
By that time the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill 2014 was passed, which aimed to end discrimination against them. “It was a good enough reason, to return to Odisha. But, despite the Bill, we were discriminated, and I had to do odd jobs, including begging to meet the ends,” she recollects.
Gradually, she came in contact with a handful of other transgender persons and made a community and started vouching for their rights.
Gradually, they made inroads into the society.
“Actors and politicians started taking note and giving us respect. The society also pressurised my family to accept me. Later, a man even proposed to me for marriage. Today, I am a happily married woman and have adopted his son from his first marriage. I have a family now,” she says, with a smile. Financial conditions still a worry, Meghna decided to become a cab driver to support her family.
Today, she works with OLA and is the first transgender cab driver in Odisha, and as per records so far, the first in India too.
“It wasn’t an easy call. It was a big company, and they had their share of rules and regulations. But thankfully, I got the support of the officials of the company, and the regional transport office went beyond their capacity to help me.”
Today, Meghna and her husband take rides and support their family. She has managed to make friends with many of her customers as well.
“Initially, people were sceptical of a transgender driving them. But, their trust started to grow, and many of them appreciated my work. I am asked questions by most customers, who want to know more about me, my family and my struggles,” Meghna concludes.
With a supportive family and financial independence, a caring husband and loving child, life has come a full circle for Meghna.
All pictures by Rakesh Roul.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)