Staff Reporter

AIDS awareness takes centrestage at the contest Participants talk about their dreams for future of the community

VILLUPURAM: "If Koothandavar appeared in a dream and granted a wish, what would you ask for?" was a question put to one of the participants at a beauty pageant with a difference here on Monday.

"A world free of HIV," came the answer from a member of the transgendered community.

HIV/AIDS awareness took the centre stage at the contest organised by the Tamil Nadu AIDS Initiative for the transgendered community that has gathered at Villupuram. Led by a cultural troupe with folk artistes from the community, several hundred transgendered took out a rally from the bus stand to present a memorandum to Villupuram Collector Brijendra Navadit thanking the Government for recognising the rights of the transgendered to health care and education. NGOs and other community-based organisations have scheduled debates, fashion shows and set up food stalls at Villupuram ahead of the Koovagam festival. Transgendered persons, or aravaanis, from across the country have come to the town to attend the annual festival at the Koothandavar temple in the adjacent village of Koovagam.

The festival, re-enacting the marriage of Krishna in female form to Aravaan and his/her subsequent widowhood when Aravaan is sacrificed for the success of the Pandavas in the Mahabharath war, begins Tuesday evening and concludes on Wednesday.

The transgendered participants were judged upon the criteria of their behaviour onstage, articulation of views, service to the transgendered community and knowledge of HIV/AIDS.