Dumped By Family At 13, Taslima Nasreen Is Beacon Of Hope For Transgenders

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Breaking stereotypes involves courage, determination, and firm stand against pessimism, especially when it comes to age-old societal beliefs on gender. For ages, the transgender community has struggled to live a dignified life. Taslima Nasreen, a transgender woman, has broken all norms to come up with a unique initiative of starting a food catering business entirely by the transgender community. Her startup “Halal catering” is a massive hit in Tamilnadu and Kerala with their tongue-tingling dishes. 

She has also trained six other teams of transgender women for catering and helped them start their own food catering business. Even you can experience their esteemed service on your good days at home. It can help them in a lot many ways, most importantly, to live a dignified life. 

Hailing from Tirupur, Tamil Nadu, Taslima Nasreen had a very different story to share. Belonging to an affluent family, Taslima enjoyed her childhood to the core with every comfort one can imagine. However, the dark days arrived when Taslima turned 13. 

“I wasn’t someone I wanted to be. I was terrified. My family didn’t accept me as I am, and finally, they abandoned me. I spent days at Tirupur bus stand, haunted by loneliness and falling into the clutches of hunger, I decided to commit suicide. I got rescued by some transgender people at a park in Tirupur.”

As she didn’t want her family to identify her anymore in the town, she moved to Bangalore. After undergoing sex surgery there, she searched for jobs but found it difficult to find one. She begged at traffic signals. To make the situation worse, she was diagnosed with severe jaundice. Trying out every hospital there, she realized that there are no proper treatment facilities for transgenders. Somehow Taslima managed to get treated at a government hospital in Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu.

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Getting her life back again, she took a bus to Chennai. Through some menial jobs, she managed to earn a paltry sum. For the first time, she decided to unveil her womanhood, in an eagerness to buy a nose-pin for herself. As soon as she entered the shop, the owner found it very strange to allow her. She was ashamed, ill-treated and not allowed to step inside. That is when a woman shopping nearby shared her kind gesture by consoling and enquiring about Taslima’s work and livelihood. Later the lady was identified to be Anjali, one of the heads of “Mahaveer Trust”. 

With Anjali’s help, Taslima began to volunteer for an NGO ‘Small Difference’ to take care of patients who were abandoned by families at the CMCH. At NGO, she worked as a cook. She started cooking chicken and mutton biryani in many functions. 

Years after, these experiences helped her with the idea of starting “Change trust” with the aid from Rotary club.

Training Other Transgender Women

Being a victim of discrimination herself, she is striving hard to ensure a safe and dignified life for all transgenders. Taslima personally has trained over fifty transgender women in cooking, thereby paving the way for their independence. Through Change trust she has also taught Computer training, Jewel making sessions and tailoring to transwomen.

She has also organised Swachh Bharat – tree plantation drives, cleaning campaigns [esp in hospitals]. Motivated by her words, a large number of college students, along with their families also participate in the activities.

Tribal welfare

Taaslima with her team has built a school in a remote tribal village in Coimbatore. As this village is not easily accessible by any means, people were deprived of their basic needs. Building a school in such a far off location has helped the kids of the village.

Hospital welfare schemes

Taslima and her team have mobilized people for blood donation, organised cleaning camps at the hospital premises, arranged ambulance service for remote tribal areas.

She adopted two boys from the hospital where she used to work as the parents of the children couldn’t bear the cost of raising a child. Adding to this, she is also taking care of two elder women [One of them aged 103] at her home. Beaming with utmost pride, she calls four of them “her lifelines”. Considering the transformation of lives she sweats for, Taaslima is making sure the four of them are never deprived of anything!!

As transgenders, they are blessed to experience the soul and spirit of being both their peers. Its high time for society to change its perspective towards them. “Love and respect” is all that they seek!!

Taslima has been recognised at various forums for her work

  1. First transgender Swatch Bharath ambassador of India.[In turn for accepting the responsibility, she requested the officials to employ ten transgenders in city corporation roles every year. Result of this, Today more than fifty transgenders are working at various levels in city limits.
  2. Leading educational institute in Coimbatore recognised her as “IC(A)N of Coimbatore.”
  3. One of the 12 heroes from Coimbatore, recognised by Times of India.
  4. Unsung hero award by ICC (The Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry)

Reach out to Taslima Nasreen at : 9787345432

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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