Kerala’s Kudumbashree inaugurates ‘Manaswini’, its first group for transgender persons

Manaswini is an attempt to ensure transgender persons in Kerala have a dignified space to work in.
Kerala’s Kudumbashree inaugurates ‘Manaswini’, its first group for transgender persons
Kerala’s Kudumbashree inaugurates ‘Manaswini’, its first group for transgender persons
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Kerala’s highly successful Kudumbashree programme, known for many years as a lifeline for women in the state, is bringing the state’s transgender communities under its umbrella too. On Monday, the first-ever Ayalkootam (neighbourhood group) comprising transgender persons, named Manaswini, was launched in Kottayam.

Shylamma Joseph, the District Coordinator for Kudumbashree Kottayam told The News Minute that an Ayalkoottam of 12 members was formed on Wednesday.

While “Ayalkoottam” essentially means a neighbourhood group, Manaswini Ayalkoottam has members from across the district. Registered under the Kottayam Municipality North CDS as a special neighbourhood group, Manaswini has elected five office-bearers, with Vaiga and Laya nominated as President and Secretary respectively.

“Of the 375 (registered) transgender persons in Kottayam, only 12 people were willing to be part of Kudumbashree. And the problem was that they did not belong to one neighbourhood. So, what we have done is to register them under the Kottayam Municipality North CDS as a special NHG,” Shylamma said.

Elaborating on the project, gender consultant Usha Devi said that the decision to form an Ayalkoottam for transgender persons was part of the state's mission to diversify and reach out to all sections of society.

“When we interacted with a few members of the transgender community before forming the Ayalkoottam, they told us how they were completely shunned from mainstream jobs. While one person worked as a home nurse, another person would perform at stage shows and festivals to earn a living. Society has never given them a dignified space to work in. Efforts are also on to form Ayalkoottams for the elderly and people with special abilities too,” said Usha Devi.

As to how Manaswini will shape up as a Kudumbashree unit, Usha Devi said that the plans for the group are yet to be evolved, and will organically grow out of the group members’ interactions in the coming weeks and months.

"In the coming days, we will start a savings account for the Ayalkoottam and have asked them to hold meetings once or twice a month. Only after six months will they be eligible to get funds to start an enterprise. As they hold meetings more often, we hope that they would come to a consensus on what unit they want to set up," said Usha Devi.

Following the inauguration of the group, an introductory session was also conducted under the guidance of Kudumbashree District Mission Coordinator Shylamma and MP Naijumol who is a member of the Shradha Training Group. The session focused on creating awareness about availability of loans, employment opportunities, and to encourage habits of savings among group members.

Laya, who was elected as the Secretary of Manswini in its first meeting, told The News Minute that the group’s focus would be on carving out a path to a wider integration of transgender persons into mainstream society

“We intend to conduct awareness programmes in schools, colleges and public forums to dispel the wrong notions that most people harbour about us. I have realised that it is only when they hear us speak about our personal struggles that many are actually able to empathise with us,” says Laya.

One immediate focus for the group, Laya says, is initiatives towards helping other similar groups to be formed. “We plan to meet once every week. On February 20, we plan to meet again to help plan a transgender survey in Alappuzha district, before we begin a similar venture there.”

In the long term, Laya says, Manaswini’s focus will be on generating funds that can be used for reaching out to other people within the community in need of assistance. “With the savings set aside, we hope to be able to reach out to those transgenders who have no homes, or even if they have one, struggle without electricity or water at home.”  

Usha Devi adds that Kudumbashree officials realise that some degree of resistance will exist at first towards Manaswini. "If need be, our state mission will also carry out initiatives to break the ice between the transgender persons and the community. Also, when more ayalkoottams of transgender persons are formed, society will take time, but eventually grow to shed its prejudice," she says.  

Meanwhile Kunnukuzhi Ward Councillor IP Binu has come forward claiming that a special Kudumbashree unit for transgenders was formed at Kunnukuzhi in Thiruvananthapuram  on February 8. He hence claimed that Manswini could not be considered as the  first such unit in place in Kerala.

Launched in 1998, the state government’s Kudumbashree programme is a community-driven initiative that initially aimed at encouraging a woman to ‘save’ for the future. From this small beginning, the mission has grown into a wide variety of entrepreneurial activities including food production, small-scale manufacturing, agriculture, poultry-farming and transportation, among others.

Through all this, the guiding force has been the principle of local initiative and neighbourhood solidarities, bringing together small groups of 10-15 women in various initiatives.

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