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Rediff.com  » News » Meet Devi, the transgender taking on Jayalalithaa

Meet Devi, the transgender taking on Jayalalithaa

Last updated on: April 19, 2016 10:17 IST

Devi'As I am the first official transgender candidate of a political party and fighting against Jayalalithaa, I have got a lot of publicity.'
'Till now, nobody knew me. Now, the entire Tamil Nadu knows me.'

'The transgender community here wanted me to withdraw my candidature, saying Jayalalithaa had provided them with houses.'
'They feel Jayalalithaa would be angry with all transgender people because I am standing against her.'

Devi, 33, a transgender is one of the candidates of Naam Tamilar Katchi, a pro-Tamil outfit floated by film actor Seeman.

She says she is the first transgender who has been officially chosen as the candidate of a political party in Tamil Nadu.

She has been working as a social worker and running a trust Thai Madi (Mother's lap), a home for elderly people in her village near Salem.

It came as a surprise to her when Naam Tamilar Kachi traced her and asked her to contest the assembly election. When she was asked to stand as a candidate in the R K Nagar constituency in Chennai, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa had not announced her candidature in the constituency.

Devi relocated herself to R K Nagar in North Chennai, one of the most neglected areas in the state capital, to campaign for the election. She lives in a one-room apartment with her adopted mother in a very poor locality.

Devi spoke to Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com

I grew up near Salem as Vijayakumar. I was born when my mother was around 40 years old. My father passed away when I was less than a year old. After that, my mother and elder sister took care of me.

From the age of 7, I knew I was not a boy. I felt like a girl inside. By the time I became a teenager, I started getting attracted to boys. I was quite comfortable being friendly with girls. In fact, I had more girls as friends than boys.

Villagers used to tease me for the way I walked, spoke and conducted myself. Luckily, other boys in my class did not trouble me much as I was the top student in the class and all of them wanted my notes and copy from my answer paper. Being a very good student was a blessing for me, in a way.

As a teenager, I was a tormented soul though neither my mother nor sister troubled me. In fact, they didn't know what I was going through. Both pampered with so much love that if I am strong and successful today, it is all because of them.

Without them knowing, I used to dress up as a woman and look at myself in the mirror. When I was in a woman's clothes, I felt myself and happy. The moment I changed into a man's clothes, I felt as if I was trapped in somebody else's clothes.

I loved a boy in my class, but he used to abuse me for loving him, and asked, how can a boy love another boy? I used to cry a lot at his rejection, but I vowed then that I would see to it that one day he would chase me, and it happened.

After I became a woman, he pleaded with me to be his girlfriend. I rejected him as I had not forgotten the way he treated me when I expressed my love.

I had seen news of men becoming women which gave me hope that one day I would discover myself and live as the real me.

I read about the Koovagam festival where people like me assemble. Without telling my mother, I went to the festival. I can't tell you the happiness I felt among my own people. Till then nobody -- both men and women -- accepted me.

For the first time I felt I was with my family. I even thought of leaving home and being with them. Then I thought of my mother. She loved me unconditionally and still does.

It was there that an elderly lady called Sumathi told me where I could do the (sex change) operation. I was only 17.

The moment I finished my 12th standard exam, I ran away from home, stealing my mother's jewels and money. Sumathi had told me I needed Rs 60,000 for the operation.

I knew the operation was dangerous, but the desire to be a woman was so much that I was ready to undergo even the riskiest operation. It is the same with all transgender people.

I went to a hospital in Kadappa, spent the entire money and got myself operated. On the 3rd day, when the wound was very raw, Sumathi asked me to join the community. They wanted me to be a sex worker, but I had no plans to do such a thing. If I had taken money from them, they would not have let me go.

When I was in terrible pain, I thought of my mother and felt like being with her. I was only 17 and was very close to my mother.

I went back home on the third day. The moment my mother saw me, she knew I had done something with myself. She didn't ask me a single question, but cried a lot. Her tears didn't bother me as I was happy inside. I had become a woman and I was overflowing with happiness.

After that, both my mother and sister were very understanding. They took care of me very well, but it took me three months to start walking properly. Till then the wound was raw and bleeding.

When the news spread, our neighbours and many villagers turned against me. They said other youngsters would turn bad if they were friends with me.

In the meantime, I was taking hormone injections and it took more than a year for the breasts to appear.

It was Sumathi Amma who gave me the name Devi saying I looked divine like a Goddess (Devi) and I loved the name.

Many elders in our village ill-treated me thinking I had become a woman to have free sex. For them, I was a new specimen they had not seen before; they had only heard about transgenders working as sex workers.

They didn't know how to deal with me as I was the first transgender person in our village. All the young men were of great support to me as I was quite good looking.

Three years after I became Devi, I started doing a lot of social service. I knew I would not be able to give birth to a child, but I wanted my life to be of some use to society.

I started giving food to the hungry. I used to cook food myself and serve them.

I was so isolated in my village that I found it very difficult to live there. My mother was my pillar of support. She told everyone that I was her child and that I would live in her house, with her.

She told them that they had no right to discriminate against me as I was living with her and not with them.

I decided to go to Salem to work with an NGO. I have worked with many NGOs all over Tamil Nadu. Three years ago, after saving some money, I came back to my village and bought a piece of land, with help from donors whom I had met over the years.

I built a building and started the trust Thai Madi, which is a home for the elderly. The building can accommodate 100 people and today, we have around 25 members.

Now, my workplace is my village and the same villagers who once abhorred me now respect me for the work I am doing.

Though I pray to God daily, I never complained to him, but sometimes when I see pregnant women, women with small babies, I cry a lot thinking I will never be able to carry a baby inside me.

A woman gets so much respect from society when she becomes a mother which I will never get. I also would like to fall in love, marry a man, have a family and a child. But how long will a man remain with me? I had many lovers, but nobody ever asked me to marry him.

A few years ago, I participated in a rally organised by actor Seeman in support of Tamil refugees. I was with them for three months working for Sri Lankan Tamils.

When his political party decided to field candidates for the assembly election, his party men came in search of me and asked if I would stand as a candidate. I agreed, thinking it would help me spread the message of my social service all over Tamil Nadu.

When they allotted me the R K Nagar constituency at a meeting in Cuddalore two months ago, the chief minister had not declared that she would be fighting the election from here.

As I am the first official transgender candidate of a political party and the transgender person fighting against Jayalalithaa, I have got a lot of publicity. Till now, nobody knew me. Now, the entire Tamil Nadu knows me. I am sure it will help me spread my wings as a social worker in the future.

I tell the people of this constituency that I would take care of them like a mother if they elect me.

The transgender community here wanted me to withdraw my candidature, saying Jayalalithaa had provided them with houses and that I should not contest the election against her.

They feel Jayalalithaa would be angry with all transgender people because I am standing against her. What kind of an argument is that?

Does that mean if a man or a woman stood against her, she would turn against all men and women? They are angry with me because I refused to withdraw my candidature.

I am a fighter and my life, from the moment I was born, has been a battle. I have to fight for each and everything in my life and that includes even my own identity.

As a social worker, I am not working for just transgenders, but for the entire community.

I want society to accept me as a human being, a woman who is sincerely working for other human beings.

I knew I will never be a real woman. Many people say 'She is beautiful like a woman.' It is always 'like a woman,' and not 'a woman.' I will always be a third gender and not a woman. The thought hurts me a lot.

But when the people of my village felicitated me and respectfully addressed me as, 'Amma, vanakkam (welcome mother),' I felt my life is worth living.

Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj

Shobha Warrier / Rediff.com in Chennai