Over the last three months, Kochi based trans woman Sajana Shaji was pulling through the pandemic by cooking and selling biriyani. She had taken loans from grocery stores and meat shops to cook and sell the biriyani. Despite the struggle, Sajana had even managed to offer employment to four other trans women, two women and few youths who had lost their jobs due to COVID-19.
However on Monday evening, a distraught Sajana posted a video pleading for help from the public. For the past one month, the group was being relentlessly harassed and abused by shopkeepers in the neighbourhood, resulting in massive loss of business for them.
On Monday, Sajana says that she had cooked and packed 150 packets of biriyani and 20 meals, but could only sell 20 biriyani packets. This as a man identified as Gireesh, who sold dried fish opposite to them turned away Sajana’s clients by spreading rumours about the quality of her food. He and other men even beat up and abused the trans women, says Sajana in her video.
“Look at the amount of food that has gone to waste. People keep asking us to work and live a decent life, instead of begging on trains and roaming the streets at night. But if the society does not allow us to work respectfully, then what are we supposed to do,” she asks in her Facebook live.
What once used to be a thriving business which sold 300 packets of biriyani a day is now reduced to sales worth 20 packets of biriyani, she adds. And even worse, the group alleges that the officers at the Hill Palace police station, where they lodged a complaint, simply refused to intervene and resolve the situation in a timely manner.
“We asked the police to come to the place and intervene. They said they cannot come now and that they would come in the evening. When we asked what we were to do with the wasted biriyani, the Sub Inspector of the station callously told us do whatever we wanted with it,” Sajana adds. For two days, women walked in and out of the police station to resolve the tensions, but to no avail.
It was only on Monday evening, when Sajana’s video was shared widely, that the issue was highlighted. A First Information Report has now been filed in the Hill Palace police station. Sajana also adds that the state Health Minister KK Shailaja teacher rang her up and promised to take action in the case.
However, the group went through considerable trauma before their plight was highlighted by the media.
“We used up all our savings including the money I had set aside for my surgery to start this biriyani business. I kept thinking that earning a living was more important and that surgery came later. But now I have no means to continue the business. My associate Theertha, a trans woman who had just undergone a surgery was touched inappropriately. He used a lot of sexist slurs against us, when we confronted him,” Sajana adds.
In a Facebook post, Kerala health minister KK Shailaja teacher added that Sajana will be provided with necessary protection and that action will also be taken against the attackers.
"I called Sajana on the phone and spoke. Guaranteed that they will provide the necessary help and security. Police will ensure safety. Action has been demanded against the attackers. As a part of the Department of Social Justice, Sajana will be given emergency financial assistance through Kerala Social Security Mission V Care Scheme," Shailaja Teacher's post read.