When on March 29th, 2017, Vicks launched its Ad. Campaign, it was titled ‘Touch of Care’ that featured a beautiful weave of two relevant issues of the times – adoption and transgender rights in the form of a heart-warming story. Of course the advertisement ran for about 3 minutes, its memory lingers fresh in mind till date.
The video clip opened with Gayatri on her way to boarding school and talking about how she came to be with her adoptive mother. The beautiful Advertisement that was conceptualized by Publicis Singapore for Procter & Gamble subtly and brilliantly directed by Neeraj Ghaywan of Masaan fame, showed why it was necessary for Gauri to do that, indicating a loving mother’s unwillingness to let her daughter be embarrassed and pained by witnessing what she herself has to endure in day-to-day living.
“My Civics book says that everyone is entitled to basic rights. Then why is my mother denied them? That’s why I want to become a lawyer, not a doctor -- for my mother,” questions Gayatri. She had lost her biological mother to HIV AIDS when she was 6. The narrative also ends well with a Gayatri determinedly vowing to be a lawyer in life to ensure equal rights for her mother and other transgenders in India. Having been viewed at least 6.9 lakh times, it has definitely been an eye opener to the rest of India and the world.
Hence we come to Gauri, the heroine of this story.
Gauri started life as Ganesh Suresh Sawant, born and raised in a conservative family of Pune, India. At 9, Ganesh’s mother passed away and he was raised by his grandmother. Finding himself different from other boys, Ganesh’s effeminate behavior became the object of ridicule and was targeted to be mocked and abused by others. This even took a different turn when at puberty he experienced attraction towards other males and despite being given to dressing up like a girl and decorating himself as one, which he himself was unable to understand, he continued the way he was. At College, the Kurta seemed a unisexual attire that could be safely worn.
But society and especially her family just could not accept Ganesh as a woman. He left home for the mental agony he was enduring. When Humsafar trust at Mumbai helped him get a transition from Ganesh to Gauri it changed his life. Thus Gauri was born. The transition was definitely difficult but so was Gauri’s determination to stay that way.
Gauri – a transgender with courage
Unlike many others who did not know how to cope with the daily ordeals in society, Gauri did not rest by merely trying to tackle society and the shunning that transgender women are subjected to, Gauri patiently dealt with her situation and that of her ilk by counseling others like her on how they could do useful work of their own, not harassing people, and earning the respect of society, slowly and steadily. Though she faced a lot of flak and was subject to initial troubling, she fought back with courage and patience. Gradually she gained a name and later respect when people of her neighbourhood noticed her good behavior and the manner in which she was slowly and surely transforming others like her. People acknowledged the good in her and did not bother her like before.
It was Gauri that had changed her life.
Once when she was on her counseling rounds at Kamatipura, the red light area she came across 8 year old Gayatri, daughter of a sex worker. Gayatri’s mother contracted HIV AIDS and when Gauri came to know that Gayatri’s grandmother intended to sell her off to a flesh trader of Kolkata her heart melted and she decided to take Gayatri away along with her and raise her herself.
Gayatri has been with Gauri for ten years now. Initially when she walked with Gayatri down the street, people looked askance and some even looked down upon her. But Gauri with the motherly instinct did not bother but instead raised her with loving care. Like she says, “There is no gender for a mother”.
Today Gayatri studies in a good school and lives in a hostel. And if you see the joy in her face as she proudly talks about her daughter Gayatri, you can realize how much she loves her. She says “When she came she was weak and thin. Today she is my teacher. She teaches me not to speak loudly how to dress nicely and behave well outside home. She laughingly adds she demands a lot of things and never does her homework on time. All she wants is a good life for her and to be a good person in life”.
Achievements that brought her fame
- When people started responding nicely to her, Gauri continued her work of counseling safe sex and giving positive advice to transgender women across Mumbai. In the year 2000, she along with Ashok Row Kavi and two others formed a group called Sakhi Char Chowgi in Malad. Her motto and nature of work involved getting a space of freedom for hijras, transgenders, MSMs in Mumbai city. After 16 years she has a dedicated team of about 150 plus members promoting safe sex and providing safe counseling to other transgenders of the city to lead a safe and meaningful life.
- She is also the petitioner for the NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) judgment that was passed in 2013. But even after the Supreme Court judgment recognizing transgenders as a third gender, till date they are still fighting for their basic rights.
For 18 years she has fought for the rights of 5 lakh transgenders. In 2014 Gauri became the first transgender to file a petition in the Supreme court for transgender rights of marriage and adoption. “Transgenders have to face a lot of social disgrace. When we go to hospitals, male wards send us to a female ward and female wards to the male ward; we have to sleep near the bathroom; we can’t use public toilets because both men and women find our presence uncomfortable; banks are not ready to open our accounts as they feel that it can reduce their client. We face discrimination on a daily basis” she says.
- Nani Ka Ghar, is a home for sex workers’ children to stop them from being dragged into prostitution themselves and give them a good life. Moved by the sight of a four month old baby tugging at her mother’s cloth while she attended a client in the red light area of Kamatipura, it motivated Gauri to have the home for them. This home will be called Nani Ka Ghar with the children being taken care of Nanis or old transgenders who do not go out for work but have good experience in caretaking. This is being done through collaboration with crowd funding platforms to raise the fund that could be Rs.20 lakh. Giving proper education to children to make them independent and respected is the primary motive behind Nani Ka Ghar.
- She has long been trying to appoint transgenders as security guards outside the Siddhi Vinayak Temple.
Just in passing
During the Winter Session of Parliament, the Lok Sabha passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2018. Ostensibly aimed at recognising and protecting the rights of the transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming community, and following up on the Supreme Court’s landmark 2014 judgment in NALSA v Union of India, the Transgender Bill has been controversial throughout its career in Parliament. After initial drafts were criticised by stakeholders, the Lok Sabha then passed an amended version of the Bill, which it has sent on to the Rajya Sabha for its consideration.
While the amendments remove one of the most problematic aspects of the earlier draft Bill — a transgender person is no longer defined as “one who is neither male nor female” — the current Bill continues to retain other, heavily criticised provisions. Consequently, in its present form, the Bill not only falls well short of meeting the constitutional aspirations of the transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons, but also causes them active harm. Unsurprisingly, therefore, it has been met with nationwide protests. Two issues are worthy of specific mention.
A good future in store for Gayatri
Gauri says she doesn’t feel special. And that she became a mother because of Gayatri, whom she considers as her pillar of strength, and did what any mother would. Like she says, “My father wanted me to be a policeman, but I couldn’t. I want Gayatri to achieve her goals. She has all the freedom for what she wants to be. I shall give her everything I can.”
If Gauri the transgender woman had not had a golden heart and done what she did, it is obvious that Gayatri would never have seen the good life that she is currently enjoying, and if she were not the good daughter she is to Gauri, Gauri may not have experienced the joy of motherhood that could have been denied her.
Fate always bestows its benevolent fruits upon those who are good by heart and do good in their lives. So too we salute the spirit of such wonderful creatures of God who have set an example for so many more others to follow. For they are So Different!