After dropping out of school aged 12, transgender woman Guddi Kinnar resorted to dancing at weddings and other religious ceremonies to earn money, acutely aware that her lack of education was a major obstacle to obtaining a regular job.
To ensure other youngsters don’t end up in the same predicament, Kinnar, 40, has pooled funds with about 140 other trans people living in Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh state to build the first trans education centre in northern India.
Work on the centre began this month in Uttar Pradesh, the state with the highest number of trans people in India, in the hope of creating better job opportunities for trans people, one of the most marginalized groups in India.
“People disown trans children, and we look after them. We don’t have a school, no employment option,” Kinnar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Kushinagar.
Kinnar said she was abandoned as a child and had irregular schooling until the age of 12 when she dropped out, taking up singing and dancing at religious ceremonies that earns her 100 to 500 rupees($1.40 – $7.01) a day in alms.
The education centre will initially have a primary school for children up to the age of 10 with plans to develop it into a college and a university in the future.
“Here they will get an education, they can choose any profession they want. I am not (investing savings) for my personal gain; it is for my community,” said Kinnar,
India has about 500,000 trans people and less than half are literate and even fewer have jobs, according to the country’s 2011 census.
But campaigners estimate the number is far higher and could be around 2 million, with male-to-female “hijras” the most visible group.
The country’s Supreme Court granted trans people “third gender” recognition in 2014, giving them equal rights under the law, but discrimination continues, according to community members and campaigners.
They are often shunned and many survive through begging or sex work.
Few have access to education and many trans children who do attend regular schools skip classes or drop out to avoid bullying, jeopardising their employment opportunities, studies have shown..
“This community is still deprived of the basic right of education. They are discriminated even at primary education level,” said Krishna Mohan Mishra of the Kinnar Shiksha Seva Trust, or All-India transgender education service trust, that started the project in Kushinagar.
India’s first transgender school started in the southern Indian state of Kerala three years ago but closed shortly afterwards when the government launched an inclusive education system for trans people, said founder Vijayaraja Mallika.
The centre in Kushinagar – a Buddhist pilgrimage centre – was described as the first to be funded by the trans community although it has also received state support.
“The trans community does not have any big savings, yet some have pledged to buy bricks, others cement with whatever resources they have,” said Mishra, who has donated his land for the project.
Local Kushinagar legislator, Ganga Singh Kushwaha, of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said the centre “will get financial help” without giving more details.
Kinnar said she planned to raise funds for the project from the government and from families to whom she performs.
“The generation after us will not live our life of humiliation and maybe things will be better for us in our next life,” she said.