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On air: Padmini, India’s first transgender newsreader

Nov 03, 2014

As India celebrated her 67th year of Independence, Padmini Prakash, 31, freed herself from social and personal demons to become the first transgender news anchor in the country.

First Transgender News Reader

Although Padmini's life has not been very different from others in her community – she was only 13 when her parents disowned her – today she is a trendsetter and an icon, who has given not just transgenders but the entire LGBT community a lot to be proud of.

As per estimates, there are more than two million transgenders in India but most live on the fringes of society and in abject poverty. For survival, many sing and dance door-to-door, beg on the streets or get into prostitution. It was only recently that the Supreme Court has recognised them as the third gender, opening up a world of opportunities in education and employment.

According to various news reports, before she landed a job with Lotus TV, Prakash did all kinds of work from transgender rights activism to teaching dance to acting in a soap opera to competing in transgender beauty pageants. At the channel she was promoted to the position of an anchor within a month because after initial trials, her bosses “were convinced that she had the potential to be an excellent news anchor”. Before she went on air for the first time, Prakash, however, was “worried because I also had to focus on my diction … to ensure that there was clarity and viewers could understand me”. Prakash’s rise is perhaps an indication of the progress that this group can make if given the right support and opportunities.

Padmini’s debut as a newsreader has certainly given her community reason to hope. Uttam Senapati, a transgender leader, who fought the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Nagpur, Maharashtra, is thrilled with this development. She says, “Her achievement is really good news for us  ‘kinnars’. It will help break the general perception that we are ‘bad’ people who only harass the public. She’s become a star among the young transgenders and who knows very soon we will have others following in her footsteps. I strongly feel that those among us who are educated and relatively better placed have a moral obligation to guide the youth among us. We cannot afford to go back from here. The only way is forward.”

Vidya Kamle, a young educated transgender, who is working as a social activist with a non-government organisation in Nagpur, agrees with Senapati’s observations. However, she feels that though Prakash has opened up new vistas for the people of her community the responsibility of building on it has to be shared by everyone. “It’s a strong message for the members of the LGBT group that if you are educated then automatically newer paths and prospects will emerge. This way, the social sanction, respect and acceptance that we all are seeking will also come to us. The time is right for us all to make the transition. The Supreme Court has given us the right to seek good quality education from the best of universities in the country and we have to make use of this ruling. If the society needs to change its outlook towards us, we too have to try and change the way we present ourselves,” elaborates Kamble.

If the transgenders are euphoric with the way things are slowly turning for them, the larger LGBT community is cheering for them as well. Anand Chandrani, a gay rights activist and the founder of Sarathi Trust, says, “I’m really happy for Padmini. She has become the face of a TV channel and it’s not a small achievement for the transgenders who have been treated as lesser beings by the society. There are many gays and lesbians in the media, who are still in the closet. But it’s definitely heartening to see a transgender take such an important step forward! Hopefully, this would encourage more families to support their gay, lesbian or transgender children. When they can accept a murderer, a rapist and a physically or mentally challenged child, why do they throw a gay, lesbian or a ‘kinnar’ child out of their homes? If our families start accepting us, then the world at large will definitely change its outlook towards us. I’m really glad that Padmini has given a fillip to our collective fight. We are all cheering for her.”

Despite this burst of positive energy brought on by Prakash’s feat, the tag of illegality given to the homosexuals still haunts the LGBT community. Manas Sharma, a lesbian rights activist and entrepreneur based in Delhi, speaks for many when she says, “Padmini has certainly motivated us all but the sword of Article 377 still hangs heavy on our heads. However, with the Apex Court giving the status of the third gender to transgenders, we believe there is hope for us, too. Someday, we will all get justice and an equal right to love anyone we want. This is the one dream that I’m living for. And I really hope and pray that it comes true very soon, so that I can marry the person of my choice and both of us stop being labelled as an illegal couple.”

Of course, while efforts towards mainstreaming this otherwise highly ostracised group have started gaining ground, activists still assert that the struggle for equality is far from over. Prince Manvendra Singh, the first Indian royal to openly declare himself as gay, has the last word. He says, “We are aware that we are fighting a tough and long-drawn battle. Our way of life will not become acceptable to everyone in a jiffy. Padmini and all those who have become the face of the LGBT community, are aware that they carry a bigger responsibility on their shoulders. They have to be more than mere symbols; they have to become the voice of the community and speak about their rights, their issues, incessantly. If we become complacent, our movement will come to a standstill. So, the yearning for social, political, economic and intellectual equality must remain alive.”

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