TV's transgender trendsetter
History was made on India’s Lotus News Channel in August, when Padmini Prakash became the first transgender news anchor in the country.
Padmini’s early life was not very different from others in the trans community. She was only 13 when her parents disowned her. But today she is a trendsetter and an icon, who has given not just transgender people but the entire LGBT community a lot to be proud of.
There are more than two million trans people, or ‘kinnars’, in India. Most live on the fringes of society, in abject poverty. For survival, many sing and dance door-to-door, beg on the streets or get into prostitution. But recently, the Supreme Court recognized them as the third gender, opening up a world of opportunities in education and employment.
Before she landed her job on the Tamil TV network, Prakash did all kinds of work, from transgender rights activism to teaching dance to acting in a soap opera to competing in trans beauty pageants. At the channel she was promoted to the position of anchor within a month – perhaps an indication of the progress that this group can make if given the right support and opportunities.
Padmini’s début as a newsreader has certainly given her community reason to hope. Uttam Senapati, a trans leader, is thrilled with the development. ‘Her achievement is really good news for us kinnars,’ she says. ‘It will help break the general perception that we are “bad” people who only harass the public. She’s become a star among the young trans people and, who knows, very soon we may have others following in her footsteps.’
Vidya Kamle, a young trans activist, feels that the responsibility of building on Padmini’s success has to be shared by everyone. ‘It’s a strong message for the members of the LGBT community that if you are educated then automatically newer paths and prospects will emerge. This way, the social sanction, respect and acceptance that we are all seeking will come to us. The time is right for us to make the transition. The Supreme Court has given us the right to seek quality education from the best universities in the country and we have to make use of this ruling.’