Very few people find the courage in life to break free of the societal norms and live their true life. Pushed by convention, families and orthodox traditions, they repress their true feelings to live a lie. Gauri Sawant, born Ganesh Sawant decided she could not live like that.
India is a land of rampant sexism, violence against women and outdated norms and customs that make life difficult for any woman or any person wanting to be different. Born in this regressive country as Ganesh, life was always a little askew for Gauri. Gauri didn’t think she was different or strange until society and culture told her otherwise.
A transgender activist in her late 30s, Gauri (Ganesh) was raised in a conservative family in Pune. Brought up by a strict grandmother, Ganesh struggled with his inner demons from childhood. The desire to be effeminate and to dress up as a woman was strong in Ganesh. But it wasn’t easy. School friends mocked him, society frowned upon him and the family tried to pray the strangeness away.
In college, Ganesh was aware of his increasing attraction to other men. Unable to understand what being gay meant, he felt ashamed and repulsed because of what society and culture taught us. Keeping his interest to dress up in feminine clothes and make up a secret, Ganesh eventually got tired of carrying a lie. Knowing he could not live with a family that was disgusted by him, Ganesh left home.
Gauri (then Ganesh) came to Mumbai and met a friend working with Humsafar Trust (A reputed LGBTQ support group and institution). After getting a job, the first thing Ganesh did was to formally transform into a ‘hijra’ the official third gender recognized by India.
‘Hijra’s or ‘Eunuchs’ are not male or female biologically and seems perfect for Gauri who is not one to be confined by the rigid constraints of gender, patriarchy or sex.
Working tirelessly for the benefit and aid of other such lost individuals like her, Gauri formed an NGO called ‘Sakhi Char Chowghi’ in Malad. The idea is to offer safe haven and shelter for transgender individuals, hijras and men who have sex with men. Keen on providing support, therapy, and counseling, Gauri teaches safe sexual practices to people in need in Mumbai.
Gauri Sawant was part of the epic struggle to be recognized as a third gender in India which was passed as law by the Indian Supreme Court in 2013. Even after such a landmark and applaud-worthy decision, the hijra community in India is fighting a lost battle.
Lack of sexual education, job opportunities, and community support make it a challenge for them to mingle and do well in life. Gauri Sawant has constantly fought against the odds and did again when she decided to save the life of Gayatri, an orphaned 5-year-old girl.
Caught in the clutches of sex workers, Gauri gave Gayatri a new lease of life by adopting her and becoming a mother. A role that has been purely female, Gauri blurred the lines proudly by saving a child in need. The war is not won yet as Gauri can’t formally adopt Gayatri. The Indian government does not allow custody of a child to a member of the LGBTQ community.
A true soul that believes God creates all children equally, Gauri is relentlessly fighting to educate, support and shelter the needy children. Children of sex workers get pulled into a life of crime, prostitution, and poverty that can be changed if they are given the same opportunities as other children. Gauri is planning to build a house which will allow residents to children of sex workers and let them have a chance at a normal childhood full of love and care.
Featured Photo by Amy Loves Yah