Bengal transwomen on track to become paramedics

Twenty-four-year-old Jiya was once forced to dance at gunpoint. Now the plucky transwoman from West Bengal is blazing a trail of success as a trainee in an operation theatre (OT) technician's course.
Thanks to a collective effort by queer activists, social workers and healthcare experts, along with Jiya, transwoman Debdutta is also being trained to become an OT technician, not only empowering her community but also bridging the deficit in India's paramedical personnel sector.
At the School for Skills: Allied Health Sciences located in the Sirona Hospital Group premises in East Midnapore district's Panskura, Jiya and Debdutta are studying hard with a batch of 50 paramedical course trainees to equip themselves with the right set of skills for a stable career.
"Usually people have an idea that transgenders beg, dance for livelihood. I come from a very poor family and despite being a graduate, I had to face obstruction to eke out a living due to my gender identity. I started to dance in Bihar villages... this continued for three to four years. I also earned money through painting alpanas (traditionl patterns) in villages," Jiya told IANS.
"Now, I feel we have a choice for a career," said Jiya, who hails from Malda.
"The idea was to have freedom of choice. Just because they are transgender, it doesn't mean they are not educated and can only beg for a livelihood. They now have an option to be a part of the technical staff of a hospital," said Mimo Koushik, who identifies himself as queer and is a social entrepreneur with the NGO Prantakatha.
Koushik, also the founder of Sathrangi, a transfeminine clothing, home decor and stationery brand, said the transwomen are being trained free of cost as part of a pilot.
"If we can give them access to opportunity then they can be skilled and trained to work in the healthcare sector. The sector needs people in large numbers and the working conditions are dignified for women," said Satadal Saha, a general surgeon, also the CEO of the hospital group.
The course fee of Rs 25,000 for a year has been waived for Jiya and Debdutta.
Upon completion, they will be placed with the hospital, said Saha, who is spearheading the training programme along with his team as part of JSV Innovations, that works towards livelihood creation among rural youth with low formal education through training and skilling of a large number of allied health professionals.
"Initially, we have taken only two from the community under our wing. We did not know how they would feel... how others would feel and how they will cope with the course. From the next batch we will able to take in more students. They are learning very fast and it is encouraging to see how they have accepted everyone and everyone has accepted them... they never sit alone... they are surrounded by friends," said Saha.
They are learning about anatomy, infection control, how OTs function and things needed to run an OT among others, said Saha. The course is affiliated with the National Skill Development Corporation. The hospital takes care of boarding and lodging.
According to Bappaditya Mukherjee of Prantakatha, their training also ensures creation of infrastructure for the community.
"Often in hospital settings, doctors have inhibitions about treating transgender patients, so having trained people from the community would ensure access to treatment," Mukherjee said.
As for Jiya, there is no looking back now.
"I find the training interesting. If I don't do this I will have to go back to my life of dancing. I have resolved to show my family and community that we can do this and we are like anyone else," she said.

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