Kochi Metro trans employees facing homelessness given shelter by CMC sisters
The Kochi Metro has been in the limelight for attempting what is being touted as one of the first major initiatives to employ transgenders, and to employ them through a Kerala government poverty eradication programme aimed at women called Kudumbasree.
However, soon after the news of 23 trans employees being hired broke, Mint reported that not all was ideal. In fact, it was far from ideal.
While the job was great on paper, society rejected the trans employees. When they went door-to-door looking for accommodation, they were repeatedly turned away. With quickly depleting savings, and very little money for food and travel, a large fraction of them were forced to skip work to earn on the side.
Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL) has now stepped up to provide them transport and accommodation, and aiding them in this better-late-than-never initiative are the nuns of the Provincial House of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel (CMC).
Time to step up
Sister Pavithra of CMC confirmed to Catch that the Congregation will provide “shelter to the transgenders working in KMRL”
However, they got the letter from Kochi Metro just this morning and are yet to figure the logistics.
“They haven't yet told us the number of people who want to reside. Maybe 12-13,” she says.
Speaking of the CMC's earlier initiatives with the trans community, she says, “We've been in touch with the trans community in Maharashtra where I've worked for over 25 years. We had a transgender association in Maharashtra as well, with over 25 transgenders.”
In Kerala, CMC agreed to provide space for a special school for transgenders. But that school never took shape, so the same space is being utilised for the KMRL trans employees' rehabilitation.
“We have to think about the third gender,” says the sister. “They also have equal rights to live as human beings, just like any one of us. But society does not understand them, they're not aware of their problems that they undergo.
“Unless and until institutions like us, or congregations like us [step in]... If we help them, our society may give recognition to them. May not be today, tomorrow, but within the next 10-15 years, they'll come into the mainstream.”
On being asked if there was a fee being charged for the accommodation, the sister says, “Actually we haven't yet decided [if we're charging]. We're just in the process now.”
Women vs transgenders?
Elias George, managing director of KMRL, however, mentioned a nominal fee being charged for the accommodation.
“It's practically free,” he tells Catch, adding, “It's Rs 500/month, as opposed to the Rs 600 they were paying per day [for hotel rooms].”
“There were a number of problems,” agrees George. “Nobody was willing to give them a place to stay. So we're arranging that, and transport also.”
“But otherwise it's been good. And they're hoping that once Kochi Metro does this, other formal employers will also come in. And already we've had people coming and telling us that if this works out, they too will hire transgenders.”
On being asked about the wages the 23 employees are getting, George says, “They're getting paid equal wages, in fact, they're getting more things than the women. We're providing accommodation through third parties, and also pick-up and drop.
“So it's a great help for the community.”
But Faisal, one of the employees Catch contacted, begs to differ.
“We're getting a salary of Rs 13500, but over Rs 3000 goes in PF and other deductions. KMRC had told us that we'd get the same salary as the women employees, and that we mustn't expect more,” says Faisal, adding, “But the point remains that the Kudumbasree women come from homes that also have some other income. They get their food, work, go back home. But many of us, due to discrimination, have been thrown out of our homes and must fend for ourselves.
“With this salary, after deducting the amount we need for food, travel, accommodation, there's absolutely nothing left. One meal alone costs about Rs 40-50 in Ernakulam.”
Not a government job
Faisal isn't certain if “transgenders were hired to step in for tasks that aren't considered fit for women, and that too at their salaries. Having said that though, the initiative in itself sets an example globally, so that's a huge bonus.”
That Faisal and others had to threaten to quit to be noticed doesn't go down well with them.
“We had mentioned all that we'd require at a meeting, but they weren't willing to accommodate these basic needs. Of course, now that we threatened to leave...”
The other major concern for the trans employees is how Kerala government has been highlighted in the media as a torchbearer for providing employment to transpersons. The truth, though, is that they are technically not government employees at all.
As George says, “We're the first public sector employer to take transgenders in. They've been hired alongside women, and all of this is a part of Kudumbasree, which is again a self-help group. This is for all the customer-facing work, like manning the ticket machine and the counters, housekeeping, cleaning, etc.”
And Faisal points out that ultimately it is still a contract. “It's been reported internationally as a government job, which it isn't. It's a contract that KMRL has given to Kudumbasree. The Kerala government got a lot of attention because it was assumed the jobs came from them. That's not right.
“Everyone now thinks we have a sturdy government job, which is technically inaccurate.”
A 'sympathetic framework'
Raga Ranjini, one of the transgenders working with KMRL, unlike Faisal, thinks that the job pays okay.
“I've done hotel management and I've worked at a hotel before. But this job pays just fine,” they tells Catch.
Raga Ranjini hasn't decided whether they want to move into the new accommodation. But they accept that it was much needed.
“The accommodation we had was in hotels, one can't stay there for too long, because it's expensive.
“We've had to go door-to-door, only to be turned down.”
That KMRL has stepped up comes as a huge relief to both of them. George, who is “keen for this to succeed”, says, “See, a lot of them come from troubled backgrounds. Some got kicked out of their homes, others don't know what happened to them. We have to provide them a more sympathetic framework, which we are doing.”
“One or two people have still dropped out, because they're used to getting money in other ways. The learning is that, at least for some time till things get better, you have to give them some kind of shift in environment. It's a little difficult for us, but I think it's worth the effort.”
Well, it surely couldn't be all that difficult if it's making KMRL look good enough to be reported about internationally. One can only hope that they sustain these services that they've promised to provide.