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Life as a Transgender Woman in India

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Along a busy road in India’s city of Bangalore, is a small run-down studio hosting Radio Active.

Priyanka is the first transgender radio jockey at the community radio station. She now proudly walks the streets of the city wearing her red sari, which she was not able to do before.

Priyanka only recently became a citizen when she earned her right to identify as a transgender person after Karnataka state changed its law recognising transgender people in 2017.

Before this time, Priyanka had no legal paperwork. She lived without a passport, driver’s licence, and bank account.

Like many in the transgender community who are not legally recognised, Priyanka struggled to access protection, security and government resources.

Deeptha Rao, a lawyer at Bangalore’s Alternative Law Firm said the 2017 policy provided a formal legal framework to recognise transgender people who had until then been denied citizenship.

India’s transgender community in Bangalore, estimated to number around 3000, has transformed in recent years, with newly won legal recognition and rights.

This included allowing members of the transgender community to register their marriage. It paved the way for the first transgender union in the state. Akkai Padmashali was the first transgender in Karnataka, to get married earlier this year.

“It was the first time the transgender identity was recognised distinct from your male and female sexual identities,” Rao said.

“It includes this class of citizens into whatever existing framework of entitlements."

Although the policy protects the transgender community from discrimination and isolation, society still does not accept them.

“Our family members didn’t accept us and usually kick us out of the house,” Priyanka said.

“The one thing I want to tell the public is, you should give us an opportunity and only then we can tell you who we are and what we can do,” she said.

Transgender people in India were previously limited to professions that were not accepted by mainstream society.

“We could only be sexual workers or beg because that was the only way we had some income. There was no other options instead of these. There were no other opportunities given to us in society. We had no choice but to do these things. We were forced into it,” Priyanka said.

“We had no identity cards or shelter to stay and there was no voice for our community."

Priyanka has became a voice at Radio Active for the transgender community.

“My program is called ‘Yari Varu’ and I can discuss topics including sexuality and non-acceptance by family members,” she said.

“Earlier the transgender community was a lot smaller compared to now and most people didn’t speak up about the difficulties. Now there are many NGOs and they can talk about all their problems."