For the very first time, Kochi, a small beach town in the southern state of progressive Kerala in India has employed 23 people from the hijra, or transgender, community who are born male in their local train network.
Elias George, managing director of Kochi Metro Rail Ltd. told the Hindu, “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."
Nearly, 41,000 trans people appeared for a written test and interview, where the new employees were chosen. The selected workers received training in technical skills and safety and will start working behind ticket counters and on housekeeping teams by the end of the month.
“The metro agency is the first government-owned company in India to formally appoint them. I hope other firms in Kerala give them a respectable opportunity to work,” Elias told the Hindu.
In a landmark ruling in 2014, India's top court recognized transgender people as "third gender." But the ruling has translated into little action since. Before India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had already recognized the hijras as third gender. Hijras, one of the most marginalized communities in India were given the status of "socially and economically backward" to help them gain access to jobs and education reserved specifically for them.
In India, transgender people who were born male are often referred to as hijras. Known for their gender-fluidity in the pre-colonial era, hijras were a respected part of ancient Hindu traditions, they were considered deities with fertility powers, who danced and sang in bright saris and jewelry thousands of years ago.
But during British colonial rule, the hijras were discriminated against and targeted by the imperialist government. The colonizers introduced the first colonial "sodomy law," Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in an attempt to punish the "perverse" sex of the native culture.
Rashmi CR, the spokeswoman for Kochi Metro Rail, told the Guardian, "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.”
Vincy who starts to work with Kochi Rail in a few weeks told the Guardian, “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.
“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," Vincy added.