Chennai, May 1 (PTI) May day is celebrated today to hail hard work, but transwoman Vaishnavi Balakrishnan, who slogs 12 hours a day as an autorickshaw driver, says honour or recognition, however, does not come that easily to her.

Life is not easy for most, “but for those like us, it is much more tough, perilous and we all the time battle societal stigma as well,” she told PTI.

She drives a share auto between Tiruvotriyur and Parrys area here before heading home to Ernavur in North Chennai late in the night.

Unlike regular autorickshaws, a share auto here and in other parts of Tamil Nadu carries several passengers and charges comparatively lesser rates.

Vaishnavi has been driving passenger vehicles, be it a mini van or an auto since 2004.

Around that time, when she also started coming out openly as a transwoman and dressing like a woman, business prospects began sliding.

“When I started telling the world who I am (a transgender), society did not take to it kindly. Also, due to heavy maintenance cost, interest on loan, insurance and not so predictable business, I began incurring losses,” she says.

Not one to give up hope, she chose a share auto, instead of a mini passenger van (known locally by Tata magic brand).

She says when transwomen take up a profession, society does not respond positively.

“I have seen people who do not want pay for their ride.

They solicit sexual favours for which they say they will pay.

I am strong… I never succumb to such pressure,” she says.

“Happily battling odds,” she drives the share auto in the hope that society will come forward to reward working transwomen.

She says she is committed to repay her debts and eke out a decent living and live with dignity like any other professionals.

“I conduct myself with dignity. But society too should reciprocate more by honouring us through their support for our commitment to honest work and decent living.” A school dropout, Vaishnavi, who became a “complete” transwoman after a sex reassignment surgery about five years ago, says people were not very forthcoming in offering them work to their skills, due to stigma.

“A section of people wrongly assume we are just commercial sex workers. There are people who are afraid of us.

It is only a minuscule population that empathise with us,” she says.

“A young man did not even comfortably sit beside me in the front seat. Later, after several trips, he told me he was initially apprehensive I may commit inappropriate acts,” she says, adding this was a “sample” of the fight they have to put up with every day.

Also, transwomen are subjected to violence by uncouth men, who view them as mere “sex dolls,” she alleged.

More often than not, harassment or violence results when they decline sex services, she claims.

“Some transwomen should also be blamed. It is due to their boisterous behaviour and bad manners that people view the rest of us with suspicion.”

Vaishnavi, briefly married after her sex reassignment surgery and appearing to be in her thirties, declined to reveal her age.

She also said she was not interested in revealing her name as she was a “man” in physical appearance.

Well-informed and articulate about the “sex-traps” faced by transwomen, she says she has volunteered for an NGO working in the field of prevention of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV to bring awareness, especially among them on healthy living.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.