SHOWCASE December 23, 2015

Limelight: Daina (India)

a young, former transgender sex worker learns tough lessons from the school of life

Early last year, in a progressive move, the Indian Supreme Court ruled to legally recognise the third gender. The government was ordered to provide transgender people with quotas in employment, education and other key amenities. Transgender people in India are, however, is still far from feeling welcome in their society. APCOM spoke to Daina, 20, a member of Youth Voices Count (YVC) from Mumbai – a young transgender woman who has faced unimaginable hardships in her life.

Many transgender women are victims of social stigma and discrimination. Daina is no exception but her years of experience with discrimination has made her strong and today she does not shy away from standing up for herself. However, she was not always able to protect herself from the hardships in her life. Because of financial difficulties, Daina went into the line of sex work. She recalls it being a ‘dark phase’ of her life.

“It felt as if I was in a prison, as if I was some kind of robot. The people there used to control me and used to demand 20,000INR from me monthly which is quite a large amount. They had a specific area where they all used to stand and pick up clients. As things went on I felt that I really didn’t want to be there and do that work but I had no other choice because of the financial difficulties we were facing. I was never happy. Something needed to change.” That was when Daina decided that she had to get out of sex-work. She began saving money and trying to leave the brothel.

In India, a Guru system exists. If anyone wants to be part of the ‘hijra’ sex workers community, one needs to establish their own Guru. These Gurus have their own area where they run brothels in which other hijra sex worker cannot enter. If they do, they are beaten up, tortured and, in extreme cases, even murdered. It is also under Guru’s permission whether or not one can retire from the sex work she’s doing. The same anguish may apply to those who quit without the Guru’s “blessing.” Without her Guru knowing, Daina succeeded to leave the brothel, but she knew a nightmare would follow her around.

One day she went nearby the brothel for some personal reasons. She was caught, beaten and stripped in front of everyone. Daina was kidnapped and locked-up and was only released after two days of abuse. Her torture did not end there. After her release, her Guru and other people at the brothel started to blackmail her. She was told she had to pay 20,000 INR to them even though she was no longer working there.

“My family was already going through tough times and I didn’t want any backlash from this to get to them. My family would have kicked me out so I didn’t want that to happen.” Worried for her safety, Daina struck a deal with them with the help of her mentor and got a loan to pay off her kidnappers. She suffers the burden of the loan till this very day.

WATCH: Daina on YVC’s “From Whisper to Roar” Video

“They had also tried to force me into sex work and I couldn’t ever afford enough to pay them the price they were asking for so I didn’t want to do it. I was new to sex work so I wasn’t aware as to how I was to get clients and trap people. I wasn’t like the pros there who used to cheat and lie to get what they want. So I moved on. It’s been six months since I quit.”

Daina is still dealing with the aftermath of what she went through. She goes through bouts of depression and nervous-breakdowns and is working everyday to get out of it.  “I want to be a role model for people. That is why I’m pursuing my education. I don’t want anyone else to face what I have gone through.”

Daina wants to be a fashion model, aspiring to lead as an example of a transgender woman who is educated, beautiful and also strong. She hopes to find the man of her dreams and get married someday. As for her activism, Daina is a member of YVC and GAURAV. She plans to work towards creating awareness of transgender rights in colleges by conducting training workshops for class monitors and heads of institutions. Tune in to YVC’s Ignite Mentorship page to learn the progress of  her advocacy plan.

For more information on how you can support Daina, go here.

India is one of the countries supported by the Multi-Country South Asia Global Fund HIV Programme, which is based at the UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub.