Formerly ostracized Indian transgender woman, now a proud artist and entrepreneur
At the age of 13, D. Pragathi from Chengalpet district in South India, realised that she is a woman trapped in a man’s body.
“My family did not support my decision to become a woman. In school and even among friends and relatives, no one understood. I was beaten up, humiliated and harassed until I had no choice but to run away from my village,” says Pragathi, now 27.
Since then, her life has been a long and difficult road. She worked in various jobs while learning the skills to work in interior decoration and ceramic works to support herself. She also worked part-time as an emcee and ran events for small organisations. Little by little, she was able to save enough money to undergo the operation needed to transform into a woman.
“I made some money with my arts and crafts. With the operation and so many things happening with my body, I was lucky that I could save some money and put myself through college,” said the youngest of three siblings.
Today, Pragathi has completed her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) from Egmore Government Arts College. She also runs her own teaching business called The Arrow Fine Arts and Craft Academy where she trains students in artwork, design, event management and make-up.
“It felt like everything was finally falling into place and I was going to be ok, till a few months back I began to have serious emotional issues. This is quite common in the transgender community due to the constant stigmatization, discrimination and isolation. I underwent severe depression and began to contemplate suicide. That’s when I was introduced to the Transgender Rights Association (TRA), a center dedicated to the economic empowerment of transgender girls and women from rural areas,” she said.
Pragathi says she will always be grateful for the guidance and assistance from the TRA and its founder Madam Jeeva who are dedicated to uplifting the transgender community.
“The training and support from TRA gave me the clarity of mind and strength to prepare mentally and emotionally to face the harsh life we face every day,” Pragathi said.
Besides teaching at her academy, Pragathi is now a programme officer at TRA where she helps other young transgenders learn a way of liveliehood through art, ceramics and event management lessons.
“Everything is made two time more difficult for people like us. Even though I am an educated and talented artist, I have to struggle to be recognised for my work. It is a major problem faced by the transgender community, where people don’t see our capabilities and skills but judge us for who we are,” she said.
Funded by RYTHM Foundation, TRA runs a variety of programmes for young transgender girls from rural areas including a career development programme. Through this three-year funding, the TRA is able to provide free-of-charge training to many young transgender women and guide and support them in their journey preparing them for the many personal and financial struggles to come.