Delhi’s first transgender councillor dreams big

About 23 years back, Bobi started dancing and singing on the streets of Sultanpuri in northwest Delhi with a group of ‘ kinnar’ people at weddings for money. She faced discrimination and endured much name-calling. Fast forward to Wednesday, when the results of the Delhi civic body election was announced, Bobi, 38, took out a rally on the same streets, standing on a jeep with garlands around her neck and dozens of supporters raising slogans for her. For she had just won the elections on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket and become the first transgender councillor in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.

Ms. Bobi says she does not know much about right or left-wing politics and Hindutva politics. “Hindu, Muslim, and everyone should live peacefully. Now problems (between them) are increasing. Hindu, Muslims, Sikhs — everyone had sacrificed for the country’s freedom. Everyone should live together peacefully,” she says.

“I want to work for the rights of my kinnar community and I also want to build an old age home for them. But first, I will work on cleaning my area, fixing sewers, and parks,” she shares.

Social work

While the journey so far, since she was asked to leave her house at the age of 14 years, has been difficult enough, winning a place in the Capital’s civic body has not made it all that easier, she says. “Now also people discriminate against me. During the election campaign, some people said that ‘she is a kinnar, hijra, chakka’ and even after winning the election, some people said that ‘ arey, hijra ko jita diya’ (You have elected a transperson),” Ms. Bobi, who identifies herself as a social worker, said at her house in Sultanpuri. “But these are only a few people. Thousands of people have shown me their love and elected me, what else do I want?”

Ms. Bobi ventured into social work at the age of 24, when she joined an NGO. Soon, the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement gained momentum in Delhi. When the AAP was born out of this movement, she joined the party as well. However, her maiden run in elections was not under the AAP banner. She faced defeat when she contested from Sultanpuri A ward in 2017 as an independent candidate.

While most of the people The Hindu met in her area attributed her success to the face of the party, its chief Arvind Kejriwal’s popularity, some believe that her service as a social worker had something to do with it too. Despite such work and her recent electoral victory, many agree that the way society views people from the LGBTQIA+ community has not changed much.

Discrimination persists

According to people in her ward, people from Opposition parties discriminated against her (though not openly) throughout the campaign and even on the day of voting. Bheem Saini, 40, who works as a home guard, says that Congress and BJP workers used to point out that Ms. Bobi is a ‘ kinnar’.

“After Bobi won, some Congress workers were mockingly saying that now Sultanpuri will be of kinnars and they will teach us to play dhol. There were similar remarks during campaigning also by both parties,” he claims.

“In the past, I have seen Bobi as part of the group dancing here on the streets, but when she stood for the election, her gender identity didn’t matter to me. In fact, people voted for Arvind Kejriwal rather than Bobi. This is a stronghold of the party,” he explains.

News channels and even the AAP reportedly referred to Ms. Bobi as “Bobby kinnar”. When asked about how it feels when people refer her to by that name, she only has this to say: “It hurts”.

Ms. Bobi has faced such discrimination and more from a very young age. Born in a poor SC family in Delhi, Ms. Bobi lost her father when she was 10-12 years of age. Her mother had to take up menial jobs to raise her and her younger brother. Soon after, she found herself confronting the reality of her identity. “When I was about 14 years of age, I started asking myself ‘What am I?’ Since many students and people around me called me kinnar, hijra etc. I was not like normal kids and they used to bully me. I used to get sad. What could I do?” she recounts, adding that she eventually dropped out of school.

Things took a turn for the worse she her family asked her to leave the house so that she would not “spoil” her brother’s life.

Luckily for Ms. Bobi, it was then that her ‘ Guruji’ Babita, a fellow transwoman and mentor, found her. “She took me and gave me the love of a mother and father,” Ms. Bobi narrates.

It was Ms. Babita who taught her to dance and sing. She and the 12-15 other transwomen living at her new house soon became Ms. Bobi’s new family. Soon, she started going to weddings, houses where a baby is born, and housewarmings, with her Guruji and group to sing, dance, and give blessings and get money in return. “I was young and my body was completely like a girl’s and when older women saw me, many used to cry and say ‘This is someone’s daughter and hijras took her from them’,” she says.

These ventures were not without abuse and trauma. One such outing, when she was around 16 years old, is still fresh in her memory. “We had gone to a house to give blessings at a wedding. We had gone early and reached around 8 am. But an old man came with a stick and started beating us to drive us away. I also got a beating and even my Guruji got beaten up. I cried a lot that day,” she recalls.

“When you are a kinnar and you go out on the street, people treat us like a joke. Many times I have thought about ending [my] life but God has given us this life and we have to live this life,” she decalres.

Long road ahead

It has been five years since Ms. Bobi stopped dancing on the streets. Now, she is a ‘ guru’ herself with around 20 ‘ chelas’ under her. The election affidavit shows that she owns the multistorey house she lives in at Sultanpuri; she even owns a one-bedroom flat in Noida. The election victory has given her yet another identity. How this will change people’s perception of her is yet to be seen.

Though many people in the area from twenty-year-olds to sexagenarians have accepted Ms. Bobi as their councillor and say she being a transwoman is not an issue for them, there are some exceptions.

Saroj, 53, who lives in C block of Sultanpuri A ward, says, “See, what they are, they are. And will be seen in that way only. There is a difference in the mind. Now she has won, let’s see how she works. Already there are already a lot of hijras here. She is the guru of these hijras.” Ms. Saroj informs us that she is upper caste and a housewife, and her husband is a Congress supporter.

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