The Wo/ManGauri Sawant who was born as Ganesh in Pune, rebelled to leave the relative comfort zone of a home to become Gauri in Bombay. We have often seen Gauri, draped in a white saree, walking through the slums of Malvani Malad.
Gauri desires to make the lives of those as unwanted as her, better. Sex workers hardly have the privilege of making choices. Children are sometimes an unwanted by-product of the profession. However, like everyone else, they also deserve the basic necessities of life. This is what Gauri stands for – a fighter for individuals’ rights.
Birth of a RebelYoung Gayatri, daughter of a sex-worker was at an absolute loss when her mother died of HIV. She was almost on the verge of entering the profession that claimed her mother. Her grandmother decided to sell Gayatri in Sonagachi – Asia’s largest red-light area in Kolkata.
Gauri came to her rescue. She adopted her. However, this wasn’t an easy task. Gauri was at the receiving end of many people’s censure. Determined, she fought back. She raised Gayatri like her own daughter, fighting against all odds. “For me, Gayatri is my lifeline. She is someone I look forward to everyday”, said the proud mother. Today, Gayatri studies in a well-known school and lives in a hostel.
“I might have helped one Gayatri, but what about the others?” wonders Gauri.
The Road AheadGauri Sawant, a transgender social activist, was born to a family of police officers in Pune. With the untimely death her mother, she realised that she is a little different from others. As a child, she felt more comfortable around women. As puberty struck, she felt attracted towards the male gender. Gauri would often secretly dress up in her grandmother's sarees and apply make-up.
Gauri didn't have a definition to her sexuality, because she never knew what being gay meant. As things became difficult in college, she chose kurtas because they looked gender neutral to her. She recognized the woman in her, even though her family never approved of her transition.
The only thing she was aware at the time was that she was a woman trapped in a man's body. She would try to grow her hair, wear girls’ clothes much to the chagrin of her father, but to her these were natural, a part of her identity, her existence.
Gauri understood that she could never fulfil her father’s dream. She decided to leave her house and come to Mumbai. “Hardly did I know that stepping out of home would be that difficult. But what else could I do; I felt suffocated at home too”, she said.
"My father wanted me to be a policeman, but I couldn't. I want Gayatri to achieve her goals. She has all the freedom for what she wants to be. I shall give her everything I can”, said Gayatri.
Gauri underwent transition with the help of Humsafar Trust and later started her own trust called ‘Sakhi Char Chowghi’ in Malad, with the motto of promoting safe sex. They encourage transgenders and sex workers to undergo HIV tests. 16 years down the line, her organisation with a team of 75 people works closely with 1500 hijras.
The Game ChangerGauri was the petitioner in National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) judgement which was passed in 2013. The judgement recognised transgenders as a third gender.
Gauri wants to build a house for the children of sex workers. However, building a shelter for the girls is another challenge.
A minimum of Rs 20, 00,000 is required to build the house which will provide a niche to nearly 200 girls. They would be nurtured in a caring environment and would be provided with education, food and basic amenities. However, at present, there is no provision for boys. Gauri feels that girls are more vulnerable and as they suffer the risk of being pushed into the flesh trade.
Nani ke GharChildren always love visiting their grandparents!! Most of the 90s kids grew up enjoying their summer holidays with their grandparents. Sawant wants to give meaning to the lives of children!! Her concept will be called ‘Nani Ke Ghar’ (Grandmother’s home) – a concept smartly thought of to provide these children a happy place to come back to. She says ‘‘If anybody asks the girls where they were, they can say, that they were at their grandmother’s place.’’
Seeing the fruits of her timely investment, the 37-year-old bought a land in Karjat (approximately 70 km from Mumbai) four years back. “I have 1000 sq ft of land with a small house, we have got the design done as well and are waiting for the funds now.”
“I have 16 girls right now who are willing to come with me, mothers are even willing to take me to their infant daughters”, she said.
When there’s care, there’s FAMILY!!