Transgender rights activist Kalki Subramaniam hopes her two documentaries made on her friends Sowmiya and Mariya, will raise awareness about transgender suicides
Sowmiya poses like a Tamil actress from the 80s. She smiles demurely, her brown skin glowing against her orange blouse and contrasting green sari. She is pensive in another photo — she’s dressed in a purple t-shirt in it. But Sowmiya seems happiest in the photo of her and Kalki on a bicycle.
The photo was taken on the streets of Saidapet, Chennai. Says Kalki Subramaniam, a transgender rights activist, “I was walking down the road when she cycled by and said, ‘Come akka, let’s ride together’. She wouldn’t leave until I got on. I can never forget that day. I can’t believe she’s no more.”
Kalki was shooting for her film Narthagi in December 2010 when the call came. “I heard Sowmiya hanged herself at home.” But why did she do it? The question kept repeating itself in Kalki’s mind as she wept alone in her room that night.
Two years later, Kalki decided to make a documentary film in memory of Sowmiya. Called Aval Peyar Sowmiya (Her Name is Sowmiya), it was screened recently in Chennai. For the movie, Kalki has put together amateur videos and photographs of Sowmiya taken during the many happy moments they shared.
“Sowmiya was childlike. She was never serious. She preferred to take life as it came. No matter how much I tried to involve her, she preferred to keep away from any kind of activism,” recalls Kalki.
“She built a small Mariamman temple in her locality and held a grand thiruvizha every year, involving people from the neighbourhood.” But despite her cheerful demeanour, Sowmiya was never happy. “Her family didn’t accept her. The man she was in love with for seven years married someone else. She had to take to sex-work and beg for a living since she was not educated.”
By begging, a transgender loses her self-respect, says Kalki. “Then there are the dirty looks and groping one has to put up with.” Transgenders are forced to do that in order to make a living. “We are constantly fighting. But Sowmiya decided to stop fighting one day,” she adds. “It’s this cruel society that caused Sowmiya’s death.”
Kalki has also made a documentary in memory of another transgender friend Anil Sadanand alias Mariya. Mariya was allegedly murdered in her house in Kollam recently.
“I met Mariya during a pride walk in Thrissur. She was extremely outspoken. Despite the unbecoming attitude towards sexual minorities in Kerala, she came out in the open with her sexual identity,” she remembers.
Victims of violence
Kalki says that transgenders are often targets of violence since they lack support from family and friends. “Mariya would never have been killed had she had the support of a strong family,” she says.
Who knows how many transgenders are lost every year.
“We don’t have a record of the number of transgender deaths,” Kalki says. The only way to create secure conditions for them, Kalki believes, is through education. “We should teach children at a young age about gender diversities. Teachers should be trained to deal with a masculine girl or a feminine boy. They should give them counselling and be there for them. Because it’s in schools that discrimination starts.”
Aval Peyar Sowmiya has footage of Sowmiya’s birthday celebrations. She cuts a cake as her friends surround her, and she seems happier than ever. “So, what is your wish this birthday?” asks Kalki, focussing the camera on her. “My wish? Well, I wish to not beg, do dhandha (sex-work). I want to work elsewhere.”
Kalki hopes to screen the documentaries in colleges and universities. For details, email firstname.lastname@example.org.