‘My Loneliness Keeps Me Going’: Fighting for Equality in India


Ms. Rajput said she had held back only because she could not bear the thought of leaving her mother. Through it all, she says, she had a soft spot for her mother, whom she felt a need to protect. She was still determined to make peace.

In the late 1990s, she moved to Raipur and took a job at a low-budget establishment called the Hotel Guru. The work was a blur of 12-hour-shifts, but there was a silver lining: Two employees, themselves transgender, told her about a park where other transgender people gathered.

Ms. Rajput, who still presented as male, was unsure how to identify. She had not met transgender people in Pharasgaon, but knew that they were relegated to dark corners in India. Shunned by their families, many of them are forced to work for gurus — some of them transgender, others religious figures — who exchange social support for payments made through prostitution and begging.

At the park, transgender women told Ms. Rajput horrifying stories about H.I.V. outbreaks, gang rapes and sexual slavery. She refused to accept that fate.

“Everybody wants to live with dignity,” she said.

By her 30s, Ms. Rajput had become more sure of herself. She began wearing makeup and growing out her hair. She changed her name to Vidhya. She also made peace with her mother, who moved into Ms. Rajput’s apartment, a gray, airless room with a communal bathroom and just enough space for a bed.

Then came the evening when Ms. Rajput confronted her abusers, who numbered around two dozen.

After she yelled at them, they charged her. Fortunately, she was almost home, so she ran into her building and barricaded the door. Alarmed at the commotion, Ms. Rajput’s mother, then in her 60s, ran downstairs and lunged in front of her daughter just as the mob broke in and began beating them before neighbors intervened.

“She was trying to protect me,” Ms. Rajput recalled through tears.

Several months later, Ms. Rajput was out running an errand when her mother suffered a fatal heart attack. They did not get to say goodbye.


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