“I looked at them in wonder. It was my first encounter with a group of trans women during a train journey as a child. I didn’t know I would be a part of this community someday. But I am proud to be one of them now,” says Amritha Joseph Mathew, an entrepreneur of a small and thriving business in Kochi.
Like other trans people, Amritha had her share of struggles and traumas she endured throughout her life. But she was highly determined to be self-sufficient and independent. So, she started her own business, a fresh juice shop in 2017.
“I dropped out of school after Class 8. Ever since I aspired to become self-sufficient, I knew that I couldn’t work under anyone. After identifying as a trans woman, this is even more difficult. So, I decided to start a venture of my own,” says Amritha, who runs a fresh juice shop and a pickle business with her mother, Mary.
‘This Is Me’
Amritha was 20 years old when she identified herself as a trans woman. But the social stigma around her identity and the fear of rejection from her family forced her to hide her true self for years. “Of course, I had a different perception about transgenders, given the cruel society we live in. I know people see us with contempt and judge us,” says the 30-year-old.
It was during those days when she happened to encounter a group of trans people performing in Harippad. “It was life-changing for me when I met this group of dancers. By interacting with them, I learnt more about our community and it opened the door for my journey towards embracing my identity,” narrates Amritha who also started a small dance troupe, Srinataraja Kalasamithi, seven years ago.
“The dance troupe mostly performs at temple festivals and I co-ordinate and organise the performances according to the requirements,” she adds.
It was in 2017 that she came out as a trans woman, that too through a Malayalam television programme. “I took part in a chat show where I introduced myself as a trans woman. Even my mother came to know about my identity through this show,” says Amritha, who had to endure a lot of abuse after the show was aired.
Being a trans person and being the mother of one is equally difficult, she says, adding that her mother had to face a lot of ridicule. She adds, “It was hard for my mother to accept me as a trans woman in the beginning. I used to grow my hair long and wear sarees but my mother assumed that it was all for the performances. But she eventually accepted me and my community. But my relatives still don’t include us in the family and now I have stopped caring.”
A Bit of Sour and Sweet
“It isn’t easy to be a trans woman and be independent. Our community has been struggling forever to find a respectful place in this society and not to be judged or sexualised for being transgender,” says Amritha.
Set up with the help of Kudumbashree, an initiative of the State Government, her fresh juice shop inside Kakkanad civil station in Kochi offers a variety of flavours.
One of her specials is called ‘Kakkanad Neeli’. “It’s a mixed juice I experimented with by adding carrot, beetroot, green chilly, ginger, and lemon. It’s a sour and sweet combination but people loved it,” says Amritha with a smile.
Other than juices, she sells homemade pickles under her eponymous brand — ‘Amritha’. She has also been selling them online to people who reach out to her via WhatsApp.
“My mother makes delicious pickles,” she says, adding, “So, we decided to make it a business along with the juice shop. She makes pickles out of lemon, mango, garlic, fish, beef, chicken, etc. while I handle the juice centre.”
“Whenever we used to take our pickles to fairs/exhibitions in different places, it was an instant hit,“ she adds.
Even setting up the shop wasn’t easy, says Amritha who sought help from a self-employment initiative to put up her small kiosk with an initial deposit of Rs 30,000. “I used to get around Rs 1,500 per day before the pandemic as my shop is situated inside a government office compound. But ever since the pandemic, my earnings took a hit and reduced to around Rs 600. But I now earn enough to pay my house rent and manage my day to day expenses,” she adds.
But the light at the end of the tunnel still seems far for Amritha.
“Even after being self-sufficient and having my own business I still get ridiculed for my identity. You can then imagine how hard it must be for others from my community. We are forced to take up prostitution and begging due to their circumstances and this society has a big role in it. The transphobic attitude of society should change so that people like us could thrive and live without fear. I wish for an open and inclusive society,” she says.
Amritha now aspires to expand her venture and dreams of setting up a shop outside the office compound so that she could employ and empower at least a few from her community.
If you want to place orders for pickles, you can contact Amritha at 9745524385.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)