In 2016, a Delhi-based homemaker’s unlikely friendship with a transgender set the ball rolling for Miss Trans Queen India. With the third edition of India’s first beauty pageant for transgender women taking place this week, its founder Reena Rai has crossed another milestone in her long journey as an activist.
Rai has been working for the empowerment of transgender women for the last four years, seeking to create a transphobia-free India and sensitise kids, youth and parents about the gender. One of the novel ways to introduce different shades of transgender women was organising a beauty pageant and, after a lot of deliberation, Miss Trans Queen India was formed in 2017. The idea was not only to provide a platform to transgender women for showcasing their talent and beauty, but also to spur wider advocacy around trans issues, and appreciate and recognise the support of the people.
Absent any financial help, Reena pays for the event out of her savings even as she has to put up with ridicule for supporting the cause. Before the finals in Delhi, Patriot catches up with Rai to talk about the hurdles in her journey and the changes that the Supreme Court’s Section 377 verdict has brought about. Excerpts:
Could you please share what prompted you to organise a beauty pageant for transgender women?
The beauty pageant was conceived to provide a platform for transgender women who are ridiculed by the people at large. They struggle at every level and especially with job opportunities as most of the companies do not hire transgenders even though they have the required skills. The idea came into my mind to make them self-sufficient. Moreover, I found out that in the glamour industry, there is far more acceptance of transgender people than in corporate and other sectors. Moreover, the beauty pageant helped in creating awareness about transgenders amongst the masses.
How has it grown over the years? Has the number of participants increased with each edition?
Since its inception in 2017, it has grown not only in terms of numbers but in popularity as well. We receive a lot of applications – 1,500 in 2017 and 2,000 this year. Out of the 2,000 applicants, the top 11 were selected. This shows the popularity of the show and the tremendous opportunities it gives transgender people.
Could you explain the process of selection of the contestants for the final round?
The participants undergo rigorous training sessions under the guidance of experts. In the final round, they will be judged on a bunch of parameters: skin quality, body type, etiquette and intelligence.
What are the challenges you have had to overcome working for this cause?
I would say there have been too many challenges and hurdles. Starting from people’s attitude to getting no support, especially sponsorship of such events. I started this venture with literally no support and received a lot of flak from the public at large. The only support I received was from my husband, mother and daughter who stood by me and encouraged me at every level. Even after three years, no one has come forward to financially support the event; I have been doing it with my own savings. It is difficult, but we have been able to sail through.
As a cisgender person working for the cause of transgender woman, what has been your biggest takeaway from this project?
My biggest takeaway from this project is the passion and commitment of transgender women. They only require a common platform from which they can soar in the sky. I attribute my success to all the transgender people who come with dreams in their eyes. Now they are my extended family.
It has been over a year since the Section 377 verdict. Do you observe any changes in the mindset of the society so far as the transgender community is concerned?
I feel that the youth are now more open than others in the society. We regularly do gender sensitisation programmes to make them aware of transgender people. I hope when they grow up, they will be more conscious and will not discriminate. As far as mindset is concerned, we have a long way to go and this is just the first step.
The Lok Sabha passed The Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Bill 2019, which was criticised as being regressive by many people. What is your take on it?
I think the main problem is that it is not inclusive. Crime against women is deplorable but I don’t think the punishment should be differentiated between transgender and cis women. It also dilutes the punishments for offences committed against transgender people. It is time the government considered transgender people a part of the society and made laws for their protection, just as they do for other citizens.