In her mid twenties, Vincy worked in a couple of "big" hotels in Kerala. Fresh out of college and armed with a hotel management degree, the jobs meant more than just financial independence for her. It would help her stand tall in a world which had always been unfair to her.
Back then, she was still a closeted transgender person.
"I used to work as a man. I did not reveal my identity in the fear of losing my job. But the staff used to tease me regularly," Vincy, now 34, says.
The mistreatment would often extend to bullying, name calling and humiliating her for, what according to them were her effeminate mannerisms. They would make references to Chanthupottu, a 2005 Malayalam movie starring Dileep, whose character is brought up like a girl.
Those days however are long gone. Vincy is now a much more confident person and is open about her identity as a transgender woman. She spent the last few years as an activist spreading awareness about HIV and is eager to join her new job.
Vincy and 22 other transgender persons have officially been employed by the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL). This is said to be the first time that transgender persons have been formally appointed by a government-owned organisation in the country.
Kochi Metro Rail/Facebook
All 23 of them are among the over 500 workers of Kudumbashree, a women-oriented community-based project by the government, who have been trained to work in various departments of the metro services depending on their skills. These include ticket selling to housekeeping to customer relations and more.
Late last year, Kudumbashree had been awarded the contract for the management and maintenance of the metro services.
"Five of us (23) have been appointed to work in the ticket counter and the rest have been appointed for house-keeping. We just finished our training program. We are proud that KMRL appointed us by accepting our identity. This is the first time we've got an approval and a chance to work with dignity," Vincy says.
"The rest of the staff has also been asked to not treat us any differently," she adds. "For years, we had been the laughing stock. Many from our community were subjected to torture at their previous workplaces which also prevented us from coming out."
Calling it a historical move, Vincy said that she hopes more organisations follow in the footsteps of KMRL.
"Kochi Metro is not just a transportation project. We wanted it to be an inclusive projects and one that will provide and improve livelihoods," Rashmi CR, a spokeswoman for Kochi Metro Rail, says.
"Around last year, lots of cases of abuse and atrocities against transgender persons were being reported. At that time, the city police Commissioner was looking for alternative jobs for the community members. During a discussion, the members told him how they would not get any proper jobs. The Commissioner then approached several companies, and KMRL was ready to train and give them jobs," she adds.
While KMRL had initially asked Kudumbashree to get 60 transgender persons for the jobs, only 23 could make it to this batch. But the organisation expects more members from the community added to their staff eventually.
32-year-old Jasmine is a Sociology graduate who will be join Vincy as a colleague. She says this job will pull them to the mainstream.
"We have got a new hope. Transgender persons should not be forced to get into begging or sex work, we too have our dignity. Within five years we will also be able to live in the society just like others. Once we are in the mainstream, we will be able to work fearlessly. This move will give confidence to other employers as well to appoint us. We are so excited," she says.
Also read: The Kudumbashree story: How Kerala women's grassroots scheme grew into a multi-crore project