This dalit-trans candidate rises above oppression to become a leader
Chitrapu Pushpita Laya will be the first trans candidate to contest an election in Telangana. And her hope is to become the voice of the women and trans community.
After she revealed to her single mother that she was trans, Chitrapu Pushpita Laya left her home in Warangal for Delhi, where she joined the Kinnar community and went door to door asking for alms.
Today, close to a decade later, Laya is back home in Warangal. And, almost every day, her home is filled with residents and local communities seeking help. They bring to her attention struggles with poor roads and sanitation in their neighbourhoods, domestic violence in their homes, and loan sharks who have trapped them in debt.
And this 31-year-old Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate from East Warangal gets down to finding solutions to every single one of them.
Becoming the voice of people
Laya is the first trans candidate ever to contest in an election in Telangana. But much before her journey into politics, Laya grew up fully aware of, and sharing the pain of the Dalit community in the state. As someone born into a Scheduled Caste family herself, she battled not just transphobia in school, but also saw the people from her caste fight for basic rights.
“When I first went to Delhi to join the trans community there, I went begging every day. My experience there impacted me so strongly, I determined that me and my community members must be breaking out of, and not pushing ourselves further into the margins,” says Laya. “I decided I would come back home and live with my family as a transwoman, and work for the people.”
She soon joined a local social group called the Ambedkar Mahila Samiti in Telangana where she heard women’s struggles with discrimination at work and with wages.
“They all worked hard only so that their children could study. I began realising the importance that education held within these communities and took it upon myself to address the challenges that kept them from going to school - whether it was poor resources in education or discrimination,” she says.
Laya says that for every person from an oppressed community to live with dignity, the vicious cycle of fighting for one fundamental right after another needs to be broken.
And so she took a personal interest in the lives of women who came to her distressed about their abusive or alcoholic husbands; and tried to address the root cause of these problems.
“They were stuck in long-standing debt cycles, and often, I went straight to fraudulent lenders to warn them and get the issue resolved,” says Laya.
According to the 2011 census, India is home to close to five lakh transgendered people. In 2019, the Election Commission revealed that the number of registered transgender voters barely touched 40,000.
Since 1998, when Shabnam Mausi was elected the first transgender candidate (she became the MLA in Madhya Pradesh), the community is still struggling with representation. The general elections in 2014 and 2019 each saw six transgender candidates contesting, but none got elected.
When it comes to Dalit-trans contestants, these numbers are almost negligible.
When she looks back at her journey, Laya says she owes her growth to the choices she made at difficult crossroads in life.
“A few months into joining the Kinnar community in Delhi, I realised this was not what I was meant to do. My purpose didn’t lie in pushing myself further into the margins, but rather helping myself and my community break out of them,” she says.
The choice to enter politics
After learning the ropes from the BSP wing in Delhi, Laya came back to Warangal, where she joined her colleagues to help families affected by the floods in August, bringing them relief materials and food.
Her dedication was noticed by BSP’s Telangana unit president and IAS officer RS Praveen Kumar, who suggested she represent the party in the upcoming assembly elections.
Even before she got to this position, Laya had emerged as a household name in Dalit and Bahujan households in Priyadarshini Colony in Warangal, where she lives.
“Our house was open at all times, people could come, talk about their challenges. Sometimes, we sit on our terrace and talk over chai,” says Laya. “I lost my father when I was a child, and as these things unfolded, my mother’s perception of me evolved completely. She now looks at me like a leader, she is proud of me,” she adds.
Laya’s top areas of focus are education and employment. “When children of the community are educated, they become unstoppable later in life. It is their ticket to break out of oppression.”
Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti