India’s vast train networks stretch far and wide, linking people and places across the huge country.
In June, the country’s newest train line opened in the Southwestern port city of Kochi, Kerala.
Kochi Metro Rail aims to modernise transport in the congested city. But that’s not all it hopes to do.
Trains are a melting pot, where people from all walks of life comes together, and so they’re a place with the potential to break down social barriers and stigma.
As Kalpana Pradhan reports, Kochi Metro is aiming to become more than just an infrastructure project, providing the local transgender community with new opportunities.
Passengers are excited, and staff are attentive here at Edapally train station in Kochi, Kerala.
Metro rail services have just opened in the bustling port city on India’s Southwest coast.
And there’s a special buzz around the ticket counter.
Two of the four ticketing staff here are transgender.
In a proud new initiative, Kerala Metro Railway Authority is India’s first government agency to pro-actively employ transgender people.
Raga Ranjini says her job at the ticket counter has brought her a new level of respect from the public.
“It is a completely new life for me. Not only for me but for our entire community,” she said. “Thanks to Kochi Metro, they gave us an opportunity to prove ourselves as hard workers.”
Kochi Metro Railway has reserved a total of 60 jobs -from ticketing to maintenance- for transgender people.
Twenty three transgender staff started work in June.
Reshmi C.R., communications manager at Kochi Metro Railway Authority, explains the initiative.
“Kochi Metro doesn’t want to keep itself like a infrastructure project, we wanted to keep it as a livelihood project and there are lot of social inclusion happening,” Reshmi stated.
“These are the things that will change the attitude of the country because we are not looking at the project as transit project.”
Most transgender Indians face discrimination. With few opportunities for employment or formal education, many are forced into begging on the street, dancing at weddings, and sex work in order to make a meager living.
Sherin Antony has just started a new job housekeeping at Kochi Metro station, and she says it’s a very welcome change.
“Before getting into this job, my life used to be very hard and difficult. I used to beg at local trains and buses,” she tells me.
“People were afraid of us and avoided any kind of interaction with us.”
Reshmi says these jobs give transgender people the respect that they deserve.
“Transgenders are never considered as bad women or something. They were denied opportunities but they were never considered as a bad luck.”
A new video, now playing at Kerala Metro stations, also aims to raise awareness about discrimination and the rights of India’s transgender community.
In a landmark judgment in 2014, India’s highest court ruled transgender people have equal rights under law and granted legal status to the third gender.
Transgender Indians were granted the right to marry and inherit property, and they became eligible for quotas in jobs.
In 2015, Kerala became the first state in India to create a policy specifically aimed at ending the discrimination and marginalisation of transgender people.
That goal is still a long way off, but Sherin says initiatives like this make a big difference.
“I am so happy today. Other employees in metro rail are giving respect and love, they are not separately identifying me as transgender. They are taking photos with me. We are getting huge support from common people.”
There are hopes that this initiative will be expanded into other sectors, providing more training, jobs and opportunities for transgender people in Kerala.
And back at the ticket office, Raga Ranjini also hopes her new job is just the beginning.
“Now I want to marry, I want to adopt a baby,” she said. “The journey has been long and there are still miles to go.”