Pride Month: The march into the mainstream

Through education, skill training, employment opportunities and celebration of trans role-models, Swetha Sudhakar seeks to place transwomen on an even footing with everybody else

Published - June 01, 2024 10:29 pm IST

Transgenders are often found in places that do little justice to their humanness, even less to the unique skills they possess as individuals. Swetha Sudhakar’s mission is plain as a pikestaff: restoring transgenders to their rightful places – amidst mainstream society not around it by enabling them to be on an even footing with everybody else. Her NGO, Born2Win Social Welfare Trust seeks to get them to these places, which are in classrooms and cubicles.

Through personal experience, Swetha knows education and economic stability increase the chances of social acceptance. A transgender herself, she has been seeking these for her own. Swetha holds a master’s degree in sociology, a bachelor’s in public administration and a diploma in counselling, all of which she managed while battling challenges on account of being a transgender. The discrimination and discomforting curiosity that greeted her at college led her to discontinue her studies. The resilient person that she is, she bounced back returning to her books later in life, the fact evident from the multiple degrees she now holds.

 Swetha Sudhakar

 Swetha Sudhakar

Born2Win tries to ensure its beneficiaries are spared the quandaries Swetha faced while finding her feet — first by supporting them financially through formal education and imparting skill training to them and then helping them find a job aligned with their skill sets. To give an idea of the steady progress these initiatives have been making: based on the data provided by the NGO, in 2016, it provided education support to 26 transgender women and in 2017, the number shot up to 72 which included trans women and trans men.

The NGO has reportedly facilitated job opportunities for 122 transgender individuals. Skill training programmes are aimed at increasing the employability quotient of trans women. STEP (Skilling Trans for Employability Project) offers a bouquet of training programmes. The notable ones, which in fact have dedicated units, are: STEP Tailoring Institute (established in 2017) which has trained 55 transgender women, providing them with sewing machines for self-employment. And a DTP Centre set up in 2019 employs two transgender women, which the NGO claims to be India’s first transgender-run DTP Centre.

The organisation’s efforts extend to cosmetology training, where since 2018, 45 transgender women have been trained and certified, with many now working as beauticians and makeup artists. Ongoing bi-weekly Spoken English classes have benefited 24 transgender individuals since 2018, while driver training programmes have seen 43 transgender individuals complete their training, with 40 receiving licences. Furthermore, 17 transgender women have completed fashion design courses with Born2Win’s support.

Flagship initiative

STEP Tailoring Institute was established in 2017

STEP Tailoring Institute was established in 2017

Born2Win’s flagship initiative is Trans Achievers Awards, which opened its account in 2013 and has ever since, kept its annual date with super-achievers from the trans community, without fail. (The 11th edition of Trans Achievers Award took place on April 15, 2024). Since 2013, Trans Achievers Awards has recognised and celebrated 234 transgender role models from India, Sri Lanka and Europe, highlighting their achievements and contributions to society. Aimed at promoting transgender role models for the rest of the community to look up to, the Miss Tamil Nadu Trans Queen Programme, an annual event since 2018, is cut of the same cloth as the Trans Achievers Awards.

In addition, the publication of a Trans Achiever Calendar each year since 2014 has raised funds for the education of HIV-positive children, children with cancer and transwomen, racking up an impressive Rs. 91 lakh to date, according to details shared by the voluntary organisation.

Leading from the front

Swetha’s organisational skills stem from a period in her life when she found herself in the wilderness. She had dropped out of college and desperately wanted her life to count for something. It was then she took up a slew of HIV/AIDS projects with various NGOs. In many of these projects, she had proved herself as a programme manager.

Her expertise extends to training and advocacy, having led programmes for NACO, TISS and TANSACS across Southern India, focusing on HIV/AIDS awareness and capacity building for health workers and counsellors.

Swetha’s commitment to the transgender community through Born2Win continues to inspire not just transgenders, but even those outside the community.

(Sharon Jessica Michael is interning with The Hindu)

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