Photo: Dhiraj Singh/UNDP India
Photo: Dhiraj Singh/UNDP India
Photo: Dhiraj Singh/UNDP India

Shivanya’s classmates call her the livewire of the class; the person who brings immediate laughter with her antics and jokes into an otherwise dull day. She loves that badge of honour. “They are all my friends—the girls from my course, as well as others, both boys and girls, from the other batches,” she smiles.

Shivanya, a 19-year-old trans-woman, has been taking classes under a unique skill development programme to become a beautician at a training institute in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. Three months ago, the idea seemed near impossible to her.

Shivanya’s dream-come-true comes from efforts by the Chhattisgarh State AIDS Control Society (SACS) to make skills training programmes under the Mukhyamantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (the Chief Minister's Skill Development Programme) more trans inclusive.

One of eight transgender students in a mixed batch of 16, Shivanya is one of the brightest students in her class. Sangeeta Mishra, co-founder and a teacher at the institute, said that it was on their suggestion that the government agreed to make the batch a mixed one. “If you want to mainstream transgender persons in society, why create an exclusive batch? For us, they are all our students; equal. And look how they have all assimilated within these 10-12 weeks!” she said.

Since 2008, together with the central and state governments, UNDP India has worked to develop legislative and policy measures aimed at protecting transgender people. The seminal 2014 Supreme Court judgment on transgender rights quoted papers commissioned by UNDP, exploring the legal aspects, gender recognition and social exclusion faced by transgender persons in India.

In Chhattisgarh, the SACS-UNDP partnership has been able to successfully advocate decentralized access to social protection services and entitlements to transgender persons. A key catalyst in this process, Sarwat Naqvi (former mainstreaming officer at SACS) said, “We adopted a two-way approach for mainstreaming the vulnerable population—top to bottom, and bottom to top. Both policymakers and beneficiaries had to be sensitized.” This resulted in the formation of the State Transgender Welfare Board in 2014, with technical support from UNDP. 

Leadership training programmes supported by UNDP have helped trans women and men seize opportunities that weren’t available before. Raveena Bariha, secretary of Mitwa, a transgender community-based organization and member of the Transgender Welfare Board, was in one the first batches to undergo training under the transgender leadership programme in 2012. “The transgender community has come a long way in the last decade,” she says. Today, Raveena is at the centre of the development response around transgender persons at the state level and encourages others in the community to look at different employment opportunities and live a life of dignity.

Sonu, or Tania—the name she has chosen for herself—is a case in point. Tania was a part of the first batch of transgender persons to have undergone the beauticians’ course under the skill development programme. She now earns enough to support her family. Tania and four other students of that batch have earned quite a reputation of being adept stylists and make-up artists in their hometown of Bhilai (30 km from Raipur). “We get at least two-three big orders every month, apart from other bookings. I earn around Rs. 20,000 now,” she says with pride.

Shivanya too hopes to reach where Tania has over the last year. “I can now see my dream coming true,” she says, “I will finally become a professional beautician and work in a beauty parlour. I will be able to support my family; maybe no longer have to work as a household help as I do now to earn some extra money and pay for my college. My friends and I are planning on taking the tailoring course after this as well. That way, I can open a boutique-cum-beauty parlour. Full package!”

As India moves ahead in fulfilling its commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically in regard to trans people, trans people can begin to imagine a world that respects their core personhood, and a world in which dignity, equality, and well-being become realities in their lives. Shivanya’s and Tania’s smiles keep that hope alive.

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