[Survivor Series] No one should have a right to decide my path; I am the deciding authority
Award-winning transgender entrepreneur Mangalapriya speaks about her journey from being a sex worker to running a successful business.
As far back as I remember, there wasn’t any time I felt comfortable as a man. I used to love draping sarees and would find solace in more feminine activities. The connections I felt secure in were outside the home...with people like me.
I struggled to make a living, and there were times I went for days without shelter and food. I then turned to sex work just to make ends meet. I eventually rented a small apartment and borrowed money from my landlord only to find myself in huge debt. I had no other option. I couldn’t find any other way to sustain myself and had to continue with sex work.
When I used to look for customers at the New Bus stand, many members of NGOs and Community Based Organisations (CBO) would come to me and other sex workers to convince us to take care of our health. We initially refused to attend their AIDS and HIV awareness camps, programmes, and checkups.
Despite our refusal, they would give us bottles of Horlicks for free; that’s when I realised they were genuinely concerned about our health. I attended one of their sessions and realised that I have been putting myself at serious risk.
I began to question whether earning a living doing sex work was worth the health risk and I enrolled with Taaras Coalition, a national platform for women in sex work, leaders, and community organisations.
However, things became very complicated at home. When my brother and father first found me in a saree, they were in utter shock and created a huge ruckus. They smashed the TV in front of me in a fit of rage, and my brother slit his hand with a knife to forge a complaint of assault with an intent to cause injury against me. But, I went to the police station before he could and filed a complaint against my brother. The then assistant commissioner took immediate action and filed an FIR against my brother.
I did not want to see my family in distress, so I took the complaint back. My family then decided to settle things and finally cut all ties with me with a Rs 5 lakh compensation for signing off all claims to my share in the properties. I deposited Rs 2 lakh in the bank and was not sure what to do with the rest of the money. I decided to start a transport business. I had previously invested in this business a decade ago but was cheated because of my lack of knowledge of the business.
But, I was determined to succeed in this business. The first time I bought a vehicle, I was cheated. I took the incident as a learning experience and learnt the nitty-gritty of vehicles.
My sexuality also created several hurdles and I was forced to buy a vehicle in someone else’s name. It didn’t end there; I faced business challenges and customers were hesitant to use my business services.
The CBO staff helped me to build trust among local contractors. With their help and partnerships with local contractors, I was able to run my own business. Despite all the hurdles I faced, I was given an award for being a transgender entrepreneur by the Commissioner of Salem in 2017.
From my awakening to accepting my sexuality and starting a business from scratch, I have learned the value of experiences and self-confidence. “No one should have a right to decide my path; I am the deciding authority”.
This self-confidence has helped me immensely and “enabled me to ask for my rights and socialise, which I wasn’t able to do before”. One decision to start my business has changed my life, and I am now able to talk to people, which I was hesitant to do before. I stand up for my rights, and I have made friends. I now have a community that supports me, and I am determined to grow my business.
Edited by Diya Koshy George