'This has been our dream project which we pursued relentlessly for seven years and it has come to fruition now,' says trans activist Grace Banu.

A trans woman transfers litres milk into a container at a dairy farm in Tamil Nadu called Manthithope Transgender Milk Producer SocietyYouTube Screengrab/ Collector Thoothukudi
Features Inspiration Thursday, September 17, 2020 - 13:25

Bhoomika, a 30-year-old trans woman, spends her days overseeing the functioning of a milk farm located in Manthithoppu, about three kilometres from Kovilpatti town in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district. As the newly appointed president of what she refers to as the country’s very first registered milk society run entirely by trans women, Bhoomika has a lot to take care of. “No matter the adversities that are stacked against us, we now have the faith to overcome them all. This is our life, here with my sisters and the cows, in a place that we can call our own,” she tells TNM.

A former resident of Pudhu Gramam in Kovilpatti, Bhoomika shares that she was forced to change houses three to five times every year due to several issues. “Now there’s peace, finally,” she adds.

Earlier this September, the Thoothukudi district administration inaugurated the first-of-its-kind integrated residential-cum-livelihood centre exclusively for the empowerment of transgender persons in the district. The two-acre land is a housing colony for about 85 trans persons and comes with a dairy farm also run by them. Spearheaded by District Collector Sandeep Nanduri along with trans activist Grace Banu, the project began in July last year. Seven departments including the Revenue, Skill Development, Animal Husbandry, Cooperatives and Rural Development came together to make it possible.

“This has been our dream project which we pursued relentlessly for about seven years and it has come to fruition now. While the previous district administrations have not been helpful, the present Collector has been our main support. To thank him, we have named the colony after him, as Sandeep Nagar,” says Grace Banu.

“He is a very good humanitarian and trans-friendly person. He knew about the work I do and believed in my proposal,” she adds. While some district administrations have set aside colonies for trans persons, Grace did not want a similar setup in Thoothukudi. She wanted to make sure that in addition to housing allotment, there was also a livelihood plan in place to improve the living standards of trans persons in the district.

Grace Banu, with support from the District Collector, formed the registered milk society a few months ago. “This is the first-of-its-kind in the entire country. We readied the necessary paperwork and got it registered as a society,” she adds.

Called the Manthithope Transgender Milk Producer Society, they have been supplying about 250 to 280 litres of milk every day since July to state-owned AAVIN.

“We have about 85 trans women in the district and only 30 of them have proper documents in place. We are in the process of obtaining it for the others. And most of them are below 30 years of age, some degree holders, and Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC) and Tamil Nadu Uniformed Service Reserve Board (TNUSRB) aspirants. We wanted to make sure that their day-to-day needs are taken care of while they continue with their education,” Banu explains.

Thus, from four proposed ideas came the decision to institute the dairy farm in addition to the housing colony. “We were also very careful in choosing the area. We did not want to be relegated to the outskirts,” she adds. Sandeep Nagar has an overhead tank, Chief Minister's Solar Powered Green House and cowsheds. “We also plan to dedicate an office building for the milk society, a skill centre and a learning centre where residents can come and prepare for the civil exams. We will also have extra space for youngsters to come here in future,” Grace adds.

While the journey has been long and difficult, Grace shares her happiness of how it has all turned out finally. “It is important for the government to be more accepting. We were able to see how the treatment of trans persons changed within government departments in the district, all thanks to the Collector. Change has to start from the top, only then will the society be more accepting,” she says and adds, “I am confident that this model can be replicated in other districts as well.”

Bhoomika chimes in, “Society has been ridiculing us. We now want to live as role models to them.”

Watch this short video that captures their residential/livelihood centre

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