Trans Employment Mela: Transgender people get a shot at respectable jobs

- March 23, 2024
| By : Kushan Niyogi |

With over 200 candidates pouring in, the employment fair also discovered the entrepreneurs among them

Naziya, transgender entrepreneur selling cookies and jams

Seated at her enclosure behind a trove of tea pouches and jars arranged neatly beside one another, 27-year-old Priyanka Sarma speaks excitedly as she delves into the process through which she infuses her tea.

“The mantra is to make it taste heavenly, and that can only come about if your tea is infused with not just physical labour, but also the labour of your soul,” she said.

Priyanka, a transwoman, has found her calling in tea-making, hearkening back to her childhood in Assam.

Trans Employment Mela 2024

Previously a sex worker, she has found acceptance through the second edition of the Trans Employment Mela 2024. Selling 250 varieties of tea, her penchant lies in the infusion of tea with a wide variety of fruits.

“If you like a fruit like strawberry or mango, I can easily foment my tea with these flavours, by mixing and matching,” she said as she sifted through her packs of tea, holding up her most prized possession ‘Herbal Tea’. She vouches for its health benefits.

The 27-year-old was connected with the Connecting Dreams Foundation (CDF) based in Delhi, who “noticed a shining star” in her and ploughed an initial investment of Rs 50,000 into her business through HSBC. Alike her, Kunal Mahor, a transman, who recently underwent surgery, also found a lease of hope through his own strife towards entrepreneurship.

Cross-legged and seated on the edge of his chair, the 30-year-old Mahor kept swiping his brush against a mug with buttery ease, with each stroke landing point blank on the surface making it a work of art. However, it was a struggle for him to become an entrepreneur, for it was a perennial fight for him to secure not just a living but also an identity.

Kunal Mahor with his partner showcasing his curated wares

“I got into painting and sculpting while drawing on a colouring book. I found a potential job in it when I was scribbling around five years ago when I was 25. It was during the pandemic that I gained my footing, where people would clamour to buy my wares. However, it was not sustainable since I was selling my products inside a slum area. I had to reduce my price to around Rs 50 when it should have been around Rs 100,” he said.

He had his crosses to bear without much respite from the continuous setbacks with the cards dealt to him. Initially a safai karamchaari with the Delhi government, he was sacked from work because of his identity. “Hinjro ko kaam nahi dete yeh, (They don’t employ trans people),” he said.

“After that stint, I took up other odd jobs, driving e-rickshaws and selling vegetables. However, during lockdown, my life changed as police thrashed me, breaking my leg, because I was trying to earn a living,” he said while taking nervous gazes at his partner.

Sana Khadge waits with her incense sticks and handmade soaps

Naziya, 34, a transwoman with CDF, also finds shelter inside the premises of the transgender jobs fair through a variety of handcrafted fruit jams and cookies, as does 27-year-old Sana Khadge at her incense and handmade soaps enclosure. Both women, different in nature, share a dark past of sex work.

“I used to work as a sex worker just to fund my education since nobody else was offering me any job,” said Naziya.

However, having broken out of flesh trade, the women could not be happier.

“I can’t really tell you how happy I am that I don’t have to do sex work anymore,” said Sana, who has been funded by Garima Greh under the TWEET Foundation, an NGO for the welfare of the LGBTQIA+ community.

“We believe in providing the transgender community as well as other members of the queer community with a chance at harbouring a settled life for themselves. It is not just through entrepreneurship opportunities but also through the diverse openings we have for the community,” said a spokesperson from CDF.

Apart from the entrepreneurs, the job fair also saw space for aspiring transgender people, who were in search of a job with their hearts in their hands. They queued up in front of the enclosures of companies who had shown up — Procter & Gamble, Varun Beverages, Vedanta, Capgemini, Deloitte, Shopper’s Stop, Publicis Sapient, Ericsson, EY Foundation, Accenture, The Lalit and Roop Auto.

Holding their hand and guiding the companies in making their office space safe for the transgender and queer candidates, the Humsafar Trust has hosted multiple workshops to profess the same.

Priyanka Sarma, who brews teas as her entrepreneurial exercise

“We do not just connect the transgender community with the corporates, we also teach the corporates the process of making their workspace more inclusive and a safe space for them,” said Narendra Dubey, a volunteer with the NGO.

According to initial estimates, the job fair had seen a footfall of over 227 applicants eyeing a safer and more inclusive world, with recruitment set to increase by 100%.