Nagpur: They used to beg on Indian trains, but this month, for the first time, transgender women will have proper jobs, serving passengers and selling tickets in the city of Kochi in Kerala.
In what it claims as a first for a government-owned company, Kochi Metro Rail is all set to appoint 23 transgenders for various jobs, from housekeeping to ticket vending, according to a report in Hindu newspaper.
Kochi Metro will hire a total of 530 workers across 11 stations for the Aluva-Palrivattom corridor as a part of Kerala government’s Kudumbasree mission for poverty eradication.
“We would like to give members of the transgender community their rightful share in different jobs at stations. There will be no discrimination between them and women workers,” said MD, Kochi Rail Metro Ltd.
The ₹5,180 crore project will eventually cover a distance of 25 km from Alwaye to Petta. Initially, the train service will only run for 13 km between Alwaye and Palrivattom. The overall construction of the Kochi Metro Rail is being overseen by E Sreedharan and is under the ambit of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.
The 530 members have been trained in soft and technical skills and also imparted lessons in safety. They were appointed after written test and interview conducted jointly by the two agencies. Around 41,000 candidates appeared for the test.
Kerala had announced a transgender policy back in 2015, becoming the first state in India to do so. The policy ensures them equal access to social and economic opportunities, resources and services, the right to equal treatment under the law, right to live life without violence and equal right in all decision making bodies.
The hiring of the transgenders is a step towards fulfilment of the policy’s goals.
Rashmi CR, spokeswoman for Kochi Metro Rail, said the new appointments were part of a wider initiative to make the trains more inclusive.
“We want the metro to be not just a means of transport, but also a livelihood improvement project,” she said.
The new jobs are a welcome initiative, as ‘hijras’ till now were only mocked and shunned. All they could do was beg, specially at auspicious Hindu gatherings, and be sexually exploited.
“People don’t interact with trans people. They live separately from society, they are not given jobs, their rights are not respected. We want to bring them into the mainstream by ensuring that people interact with them every day – on their way to work, for example.”
The new recruits have already had training in customer care and taken classes in confidence improvement.
“Kochi metro is the first company in India to accept us. It is a huge achievement for us,” said Vincy, one of those newly employed by Kochi metro. “I feel very comfortable there. The other workers know how to respect me because Kochi metro is recognizing us.”
“I hope it will be in all the newspapers and on TV channels and other companies will take notice of it and start hiring trans people.”
The lack of employment opportunities for trans people, Rashmi said, happens for reasons other than prejudice. “A lot of them have criminal records because they have no choice but to do sex work. Plus many of them have never had the opportunity to go to school, so they don’t have any qualifications. You need to have some level of education to get a front-end job but many of these people have been denied that opportunity.”
The palm-lined, tourist hotspot of Kerala, which includes Kochi, is much more liberal and has a higher standard of education than many Indian states, said Rashmi. She added that she hoped the company would soon bring more trans recruits on to the staff.
Start work on a ticket counter in a couple of weeks, and is thrilled: “Trans people don’t get work, not even in big multinational companies, IT firms, not in government jobs, nothing. Even when we do get jobs, we are often made fun of. If I work in an office, the other workers for example will make fun of how I walk like a woman. I will be the laughing stock,” she said.