Moneycontrol
Last Updated : Sep 21, 2018 07:29 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Meet the Ola transgender driver who had to fight society to live a life of dignity

From dancing in bars to begging in trains, she did it all to earn a living despite having a Master’s in Business Administration. Her only crime was to be born as a man.

Priyanka Sahay @priyankasahay
Sabahat Contractor @Sabahatjahan28

From dancing in bars to begging in trains, she did it all to earn a living despite having a Master’s in Business Administration. No, she wasn’t a victim of the global meltdown. Her only crime was to be born as a man.

Here's the gut-wrenching story of 28-year-old Meghna Sahoo and her two-decade-long ordeal to earn respect and equality in society.

Born as a boy in a middle-class family, Sahoo started liking wearing lipstick and kohl at the age of 13.

This didn’t go unnoticed.

Not many took the behavior lightly in school. Relatives were no better. She soon became an object of ridicule.

Like any middle-class parents in India, Sahoo’s parents considered her behavior as sheer stupidity, for which she was often scolded and beaten up.

“After getting roughed up a couple of times, I stopped applying makeup. I thought I would agree to the demands of my parents and started acting like a boy. But deep within, I had a voice which said that I was a girl and not a guy,” Sahoo told Moneycontrol.

At the age of 16, she started getting attracted to boys in the school. She would feel jealous when a good looking guy proposed to a girl. “I started fancying that guys should ask me out. I also wanted to have a boyfriend,” said Sahoo, who was mostly friends with girls in the school. She was too nervous to approach and speak to boys.

But constant family pressure kept her sailing on two boats. It also led her into depression. The situation worsened after Sahoo’s friends ridiculed her in front of eunuchs in a park.

"They said I was from their community," said Sahoo adding that the incident got her thinking if what they said was actually correct.

Her curiosity led her to meet the transgenders who also told her the same thing reading her feminine gestures.

But though curious, it seems Sahoo wasn't quite ready for the revelation.

She remained disturbed for a while and then took shelter in studies.

That one meeting with transgenders had an adverse effect on her life.

“I thought if I started behaving manly, people will stop saying that I was different from them," she said.

But if only doing that was so simple!

“Subconsciously, I would do something or the other which would again make me a laughing stock,” she said adding that she was trying hard to act like a man even when she felt like a woman.

The family had realised the harsh reality too but no one was willing to accept or talk about it.

Even her younger brothers would ask her to behave properly in front of people and kept telling her that she indeed was a man.

Sahoo studied hard and pursued a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from Sambalpur University in Odisha.

Life seemed to be falling back on track after she landed up with a job at a diagnostic lab. She started earning Rs 25,000 per month.

However, life has its own circles.

Since Sahoo was the eldest of the three siblings, the family soon started pressurising her to get married. It was a nightmare for her to think about getting married to a girl and spending life with one when she herself felt like a girl.

Constant arguments over dinner became a daily ritual in the house.

After one such heated round of argument, Sahoo decided to leave the house.

Once on her own, she decided that she will live life her own way.

So, she started that by keeping long hair, while working as a marketing manager at the diagnostic lab.

Little had she realised that she was living in a society which was harsher than the closed walls of her house.

The office started objecting to her long hair and threw her out of job in 2013.

After losing her job, a furious Sahoo decided to go under the knife. She got in touch with some transgenders who helped her find the right clinic in Delhi. She spent all her savings -- Rs 3 lakh to be precise in the sex reassignment surgery.

A few months down the line, she was left with no money in the bank and no job in hand.

Needy enough, Sahoo thought her new identity will now make it easier to get a job.

Ironically, despite knowing many doctors and medical experts, owing to her previous job, Sahoo couldn’t get one single opportunity in the hospital industry.

“People would never say it on my face. But would just casually ignore me saying there was no job available,” she said.

That didn’t leave much choice with her.

Post her surgery, the only asset she thought she had was her female body. So without giving much thought, she started accompanying other transgenders to a bar as a dancer in Delhi.

Constant jeering and name-calling at the bar used to make her uncomfortable but the need for money kept her going.

Troubles were not limited to just inside the bar. Once outside, cops used to hit them for roaming around on roads, all dressed-up during night.

“They would think that we were prostitutes on the roads,” she said.

She finally managed the courage to quit that job.

However what followed next wasn't anything fancier.

Inter-city trains became her new abode. With the help of her transgender friends, she started begging on trains to earn money. Rs300-500 of daily income would ensure a decent meal and rent of the chawl she shared with other transgenders. She used to take Bhubaneswar to Delhi trains and begged there.

Life had come to a standstill. She was living with transgenders most of whom used to be under depression and had multiple sexual partners.

From living in an air-conditioned house in Bhubaneswar to defecating alongside the railway tracks in Delhi, Sahoo’s life had seen the worst anybody's could.

Months passed and the realisation sunk in that she wasn’t born to live like this.

Sahoo wanted to achieve something and fight for her recognition.

She came back to Orissa and joined an NGO called Sakha.

This was the turning point for the business graduate who now wanted to help every transgender in the society.

Having seen worst of everything, Sahoo started working on HIV related issues.

Given the limited awareness, many transgenders were engaging in unsafe sex. Sahoo started making them aware of using protection.

The NGO work used to fetch her Rs 6,000-7,000 per month.

The meagre income just a hand-to-mouth earning for her.

Meanwhile at an event where she was invited as a guest, she came across Basudeba Nayak -- father of a three-year-old child.

An estranged Nayak was looking for a life partner and a mother for his child. His wife had left the two to live with her boyfriend.

Nayak immediately fell in love with Sahoo. He realised he wanted to marry her. However, he couldn’t gather the courage to approach her at the event.

He reached out to her through Facebook following which Sahoo met him.

On the first meeting itself, Nayak’s child addressed her as his mother.

Sahoo couldn’t ask for more. Somebody who always wanted to be accepted as the way she was born was finally getting a family.

In early 2017, Sahoo got married to Nayak. At the time of marriage, Nayak was working as a supervisor in a private security agency.

Life was finally going good, except the strain on finances. Then, one day Sahoo got to interact with an Ola cab driver.

She started asking the driver about his business.

After speaking to him, Sahoo realised that this business would suit her the most, given the decent earning and a flexible time schedule.

When Sahoo approached Ola for being a cab partner, the ride-hailing company welcomed her. They trained her in all aspects of the profession and business.

Then came the first day of her job.

Her heart was thumping when the first passenger sat in her car. To her delight, the lady-passenger called her didi adding that women will feel safer if more transgenders took to this profession.

Sahoo has never had a bad day at driving so far. She says no one can mess with her, as Ola backs her and has the data of every customer who takes the cab.

With some saved money, she has bought a second car for her husband who now also works as a driver for Ola.

Sahoo takes home around Rs 15,000-18,000 after paying commission to Ola and taking care of the fuel costs.

Dressed in a yellow kurta and donning a red bindi, Sahoo’s face is beaming as she shows us her Swift Dzire parked in front of her small two-room set house with asbestos roof, over a video call. Outside her house, clothes are drying on a rope. There are multiple similar houses next to her house.

Today she has come home early and is waiting for her husband who would come home after taking the son from school.

While Sahoo sends the child to school and leaves for work at 10 am after preparing lunch, her husband leaves home as early as 5: 30 am and takes care of the child after he comes back from the school.

The smile on Sahoo's face says, she is happy. She indeed had a long journey.

According to the Census of 2011, there are around 4.88 lakh transgenders in India. The Supreme Court of India in April 2014 passed a judgment that a person's sexual orientation was an integral part of her personality and dignity. It gave transgenders the identity of the third gender in society.
First Published on Sep 17, 2018 12:29 pm
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