A RIYA OF HOPE

 

“Tamil Nadu Transwoman & DMK Candidate Scripts History, Wins Local Body Poll in Tiruchengode” – reads the headline of the newspaper.

 

For any normal human being, it’s a huge personal victory! But for Riya, the aforementioned transwoman, this was beyond herself – it was a victory for the entire trans community.

Riya is a bundle of energy, hope, and confidence, who has never cowed under the curveballs that life threw at her. For Riya, winning the election was yet another chapter to her unconventional life, the story that started almost 20 years back when she first felt trapped inside a man’s body.

Riya’s parents hail from a poor family in Seenivasampalayam. Born to Anbuarasan, a daily wager and Chinapappa, a homemaker, dealing with poverty was child’s play compared to the fear, discrimination, and pain she experienced being the only transgender in her panchayat: Karuvepampatty. Her family, friends, or teachers did not understand her and shunned her. At 15, she ran away from home and circumstances led her to Mumbai where for the first time, she felt a sense of belonging. Mumbai had a large community of transgenders and they welcomed her in their circle, empathizing with her journey, truly understanding what exactly she went through.

Riya says that trans people are the same as everyone else: they also want love, respect, and happiness. There’s no real difference in their value system. Even people with prejudices change their mind after meeting her, realizing that it’s who she is and it’s the way she was born. Her eyes light up when she talks about her one small brush with romance, but she had dreams bigger than herself and did not pursue it.

The starry world of movies does not interest Riya because the industry is cruel in representing the trans community, always picturing them in a bad light. This saddens her because it’s so far from the reality. However, she looks up to Ajith and Nayantara, not because they are reel-life heroes, but because they are real-life heroes, always standing up and being the voice for the downtrodden.

Once such voice that changed Riya’s life is politician M Karunanidhi. Her identity was marred by derogatory terminologies and this changed after Kalaignar christened her community as Thirunangai.

Riya had always dreamt of being a teacher, especially to transgender kids so that they did not have to face the discrimination that she did as a young child. Fate, however, had bigger plans as her penchant for helping the community drew her to social services, and inadvertently to politics. Karunanidhi’s pro-trans stance gave her hope and she realized that she could make a real difference to the community by working from within.

She decided to run for elections and would go door to door asking people to trust her as they would trust a daughter. In return, she promised to take care of the ward as her own family.

During the Covid pandemic, she collected 6 lakhs rupees that was used to help 250+ families. But that is a mere drop in her ocean of social work. She has been serving for the last 15 years.

Her honesty and truthful nature must have shone through because she won the post of ward councilor in Tiruchengode Panchayat Union on a DMK ticket.  She polled 2,701 votes, defeating her nearest rival by 950 votes. For Riya, this was the foundation on which she wanted to build an equal society.

Although her dream had come true, her work had only just begun.

– Written By SAP Volunteers for SAP stories