Transgender Komal Jagtap used to work as a wedding singer. For about Rs 5,000 she would dance and sing when people got married or wanted to celebrate a birth. But she had big dreams. She had dabbled in film and TV, before a friend on a movie set told her about auditions for a new pop group. Today, Komal is a member of 6 Pack Band, causing a stir across the country.
India has an estimated 1.9 million transgender people. They are known as hijras and are alienated. As Komal’s parents struggled with her gender identity, they too faced rejection. “People would taunt my parents saying, ‘A hijra was born in your house.’ Because they had to face so much trouble, they stopped talking to me,” said Komal in a report by The Guardian.
“From the outside, I was male,” said Komal, remembering when she was Bhavesh, the son of traditional parents. “Inside, I felt like a girl. The way I talked and walked, everyone could see I was different. I used to feel this isn’t my family. I don’t belong here,” Komal added.
The pressure to conform forced Komal to leave home in 1999 when she was eight-years-old. “My brother and sister told me, ‘You should wear trousers and shirts and everything will be OK.’ But I said, ‘That isn’t who I am.’ The first time they saw me wearing a sari, my relations said, ‘Don’t try to see us any more, you are dead to us.’ I have never gone back,” recalled Komal.
Komal found sanctuary in a transgender community. “I went to my guru, Mujhra Nani. I said, ‘I’m a hijra. Let me live with you.’ There were 20 or 30 hijras living there. They taught me everything I needed to know to survive.”
Things changed for Komal when Ashish Patil – the head of Y films, the youth arm of Bollywood production powerhouse Yash Raj Films – decided to launch India’s first transgender band. Out of 200 hopefuls who auditioned, only six were selected for the band. Komal was one of the six. For nine months they went through boot camp training. “When we recorded, I just imagined I was singing at a wedding,” Komal said. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Komal is caught up in recordings, press conferences, photo and video shoots and interviews. Now, she is respected by the very same people who shunned her. “After years of silence, my brother invited me home. Now neighbours tell our family, ‘Look your son is on TV and sings so well.’ The people who used to harass us on the street say, ‘That’s the star from 6 Pack Band’,” said Komal. Earlier, Yourstory published a story on 6 Pack Band.