Leading the pack is 35-year-old transgender woman Anju, who along with her friends, decided to break free from years of exploitation and injustice to lead lives on their terms.
Huli Timmapura is a little-known village in the Chikmagalur district of Karnataka, and the perception is that life here is like every other countryside locale in India—uneventful and straightforward.
Truth be told, the village is far from being that and is silently helming the cause of social inclusivity and breaking stigmas surrounding the transgender community.
And how are they doing that? Well, agriculture!
In a country where transgender people continue to face severe discrimination, social ostracisation and lack of job opportunities, the fact that they have formed a group in Huli Timmapura, and are pursuing an activity as mainstream as farming, is rather refreshing.
Leading the group is 35-year-old Anju, a transgender woman. She and her friends, Spoorthi, Prema, Harshitha, Bhagya, Kavya, and Abhishek, decided to break free from years of exploitation and injustice to lead lives on their terms.
Across a plot of 4 acres, these folks have been cultivating vegetables like potatoes, corn and hyacinth beans for the last four years.
However, eight years ago, Anju’s life was very different. She was in Bengaluru at the time, and like many trans people, she turned to begging and eventually, sex work, to eke out a living.
“The daily exploitation and lack of respect broke Anju. She was fed up and wanted to live a normal and dignified life like everyone else,” says Megha Malnad, a transgender activist whose organisation, Madilu, works for the welfare of the transgender community.
While the organisation is based in the Lingadahalli village, it works across Chikmagalur.
(Note: Anju wasn’t available for the interview; hence Megha offered to speak on her behalf.)
She moved to Chikmagalur city, but things didn’t change—she had to deal with the patronising attitude of people, because of her past.
“People refused to trust her when she went around looking for jobs. They couldn’t get past the fact that she was a former sex worker. Hurt by their attitude, Anju decided to head back to her village and move in with her parents,” Megha adds.
It took a little while for her parents to understand why she wanted to take up a respectable job and lead a life where people wouldn’t look down upon her.
Initially reluctant, they finally opened their arms and doors and agreed to support her in every way possible.
Shortly after this, she met Megha and the transgender community in the region, thanks to Madilu.
“We have been helping the community members utilise government sanctioned loans to kickstart various small scale businesses as well to learn skills such as make-up, fashion designing, and weaving bags. Sadly, the lack of scope for these skills in small villages has been a major obstacle for us. For now, the main source of income for the community is the practice of badahi (where the transgender community is offered money for their blessings at auspicious occasions),” Megha explains.
So how did Anju decide on becoming a farmer?
“A few years back, Anju’s father passed away, leaving behind 2 acres of land to her. Instead of letting it lie unused, she thought of taking up farming and along with some of her friends, reached out to us. We guided them, and they picked up the basics very easily,” Megha recalls.
Support from Madilu has certainly helped Anju and her friends stand on their feet, just the way it has helped many others from the community in Chikmagalur.
She also explains that the group has faced many ups and downs like every other farmer in the country.
“One time, they had invested close to Rs 1 lakh on potatoes but were only able to make a profit of Rs 30,000. As this amount is equally split between all the members, farming isn’t the most viable livelihood option for them, and they still look towards badahi to meet their needs,” adds Megha.
While the group has surely faced losses in its agrarian journey, the members have soldiered on. In fact, today they farm across a plot of 4 acres, after receiving the additional two acres on lease from her relatives and are doing well according to Megha.
While the villagers of Huli Timmapura initally looked at Anju and her friends with suspicion, things have certainly changed today.
“They have become broadminded and inclusive in their attitude towards our community, which was not the case earlier. The change has been gradual, but it is happening. We wish this kind of change also begins in the urban areas as well,” she concludes.
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By farming their way out of the stigma, Anju and her friends are showing the way forward for not just for the transgender community but also the entire country.
We wish them the best.
(With inputs from Rajath Sharma)
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)