From the streets of Coimbatore to the walls of Bengaluru - How Kalki Subramaniam is empowering other transgenders through crowdfunding her own art

From the streets of Coimbatore to the walls of Bengaluru - How Kalki Subramaniam is empowering other transgenders through crowdfunding her own art

Monday August 29, 2016,

6 min Read

My gender is my last identity,

says Kalki Subramaniam.

Shabharish aka Kalki is a 35-year-old transgender with her roots in a remote village located 30km from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Young and fierce, she carries the badge of being the country’s first ever transgender artist. She has lived through a journey that is no less than a roller-coaster ride. From battling gender disparities at her adolescence to today holding two master's degrees, she written her own success story, the one that continues to be an inspiration to many.


Kalki is today known to be an activist and a prominent voice for the transgender community, waging a fierce battle for their basic rights. She is also an actor, author, inspirational speaker and an entrepreneur. Recently, she deep-dived into the world of colors only to bounce back with canvases of art that spoke of her journey.


Painting her new avatar

Most people who know her remember her as a fierce campaigner for socio-political rights of transgenders, but recently Kalki hosted an art show with an intent to raise funds to help the deserving. Backed by Fuel A Dream, a Bengaluru-based crowdfunding platform, Kalki went on to display her art at the Rangoli metro station on MG road. Each work speaks volumes about the battle between genders, the chaos and confusions, the flip-side of reality, augmented with strong faces that took forms of animals and humans.

2 of her paintings at the display
2 of her paintings at the display

Kalki plans to raise about Rs 2 lakh through the crowdfunding platform and intends to invest 60 percent of it on empowering four different individuals from the same community. She has a very ambitious plan to rope the funds for their higher studies.

Each of Kalki's paintings capture the spirit of happiness and individuality. The battle for acceptance was portrayed in vibrant colours, strokes and abstract structures. A series of 20 paintings have been kept aside for this initiative.

Art is something that transports us into different realities and inspires people. Through my art I want to bring about a change in the lives of transgenders. I believe that only education can bring about this change and make a difference. My collection on aims at raising funds for four other transgenders who come from an extremely poor backgrounds and some of them have been rescued from sex trafficking. My vision is to reach out to the right audience, and Fuel A Dream is an ideal platform to put this social cause to the society.

Ranganath Thota, Founder-CEO at Fuel A Dream considers Kalki’s endeavour a venture of compassion and passion. Seeing how the Indian audience is opening up to crowdfunding options, he is very positive of support for the cause. He says,

We are proud to support Kalki’s initiative on our platform. This will be a path-breaking campaign as it highlights the need for aid and assistance to the transgender community and is all about raising funds in a unique manner- through the medium of art.
Kalki with the CEO of Fuel a dream, Ranganath Thota

Founded this April, Fuel A Dream has evolved as an emerging hub for crowdfunding options. From raising funds for cyclists who went cycling all over the country raising awareness on girl child education, to building an eco-friendly electric bike, the firm has started to make its presence felt in many causes.

One of the attendees at the event was Prema, a transwoman from Kalki's neighbouring village. She was overwhelmed by the response the city showed to Kalki's works and encouraged her friend with the loudest claps.

I am a transgender too but not as fortunate as Kalki. Her family backed her at her every step but mine chose to abandon me. Most of us are cornered, without our basic rights, and with heroes like Kalki, I am sure our tribe will be more empowered. We are proud of her.

The deep dive

Though her childhood days were difficult, she was accepted in her family, which is a rare occurrence when one looks at other the lives of other transgenders. Her family backed her education and have stood tall till date, helping her play every role with perfection. Kalki has co-founded Sahodari Foundation, which empowers the trans community.

Kalki at the Union Consultate and at a TEDx Conference
Kalki at the Union Consultate and at a TEDx Conference

Kalki and her love for poetry dates back to her teenage days. She found poetry the best medium to express her different shades of mood, so much so that she won the 'Best Poet' award from BornToWin, in 2015. During this time, finding an illustrator to support her poetry was a task. Someone suggested she try her hand at illustration and, voila, the rest is history!

Fighting her own battles

One of my fellow transgender friends was kidnapped right in front of me while we were walking on the road. Those seven men pulled her into the car only to drop her back with bruises and torn clothes. She was raped repeatedly by these men and that was the day I promised myself to stand up for who I am and not be a victim. Though I was bullied and cornered innumerable times, I promised myself that I will bring back the pride my family lost because of my gender and today, I am proud that I have succeeded in achieving it, to some extent, says Kalki.

Also readI am happy and liberal than most ‘born women’ I have seen – Kalki Subramaniam

Today, Kalki has earned her space by being the most celebrated transgender activist in the country. She was among the 12 women with inspiring social media presence honoured by Facebook Inc., and is a proud recipient of the Achievers Award from Coimbatore Lawyers Association and Transgender Welfare Association. She also holds a place for herself as one of the nominees in the L’Oreal Paris and NDTV's -'Women of worth' , a joint initiative by the brands to acknowledge the unsung heroes of our country. With a tag of being the first-ever transgender in India to play the lead in a motion picture, Kalki debuted as an actress in the 2015 release Narthaki.


Though we all constantly look for inspiration around us, Kalki has found hers in her own identity.

You can support Kalki's initiative here.