‘Migrants Are Back But Afraid Of A Fresh Lockdown’

Mohammad Babul has returned to the labour colony in Greater Noida West a year after the lockdown was announced but the going is still tough, he tells LokMarg

We had a flourishing society before the lockdown was announced in March 2020. My extended family, which included my relatives and friends from my hometown in West Bengal, used to live here (labour colony, Gr Noida West) together and worked in close vicinity as construction labour.

The strength of this community unity saw us flourished. Life was comfortable. We never foresaw a situation that there would be a shortage of food or money as too many of us were always employed at one construction site or another at any given point of time.

But as the lockdown struck due to the coronavirus pandemic, we ran out of our livelihoods. After spending nearly a month without a job, all of us decided to return to our hometowns in West Bengal. Some went on foot for hundreds of kilometres till they hitched a ride on a truck or other transport; the luckier ones were sent home either in sanitised government vehicles or NGO-run buses.

ALSO READ: Migrant Crisis Will Haunt Modi Govt 2.0

We lived through the uncertain times and when the virus began to weaken, with nothing much worthwhile in our hometowns, some of us decided to return to Greater Noida to look for work in the hope that things must have returned to normal.

However, a number of my extended family members, including my sister and brother-in-law decided to hold back, and waited for my feedback if the situation were favourable for them to come back. Their apprehensions were right. Since I have returned here, it’s hard to find a job as the builders and the contractors have run out of money and their projects are still in a limbo.

Earlier, during pre-CoViD times, any daily wager in Noida-Greater Noida used to earn about ₹550 every day, but now we are hardly earning ₹400 a day. It is because although a large number of labourers have returned from Bengal, Purvanchal and other areas, the construction work has not resumed in proportional stead.

ALSO READ: Fearing Lockdown, Workers Return To Villages

There are lesser vacancies and more seekers for work in the locality of Greater Noida West. Thousands of high-rise apartments are being constructed in this area, but due to the consecutive lockdown, work at most of the projects has been halted. Threat of another lockdown is rife, uncertainty of losing the livelihood again looms large on the daily wagers.

That is why many of my extended family are reluctant to return. This is also taking a toll of our daily life. Since there are fewer family and friends, it’s hard to support each other during hard times as flow of money and food is limited. I just hope this pandemic ends soon so that our children don’t sleep hungry.

Breath Nightclub Lounge And Bar

‘Night Curfew Doesn’t Break The Chain, Only Hurts Business’

Yash Singhal, owner of Breath Fine Lounge & Bar in New Delhi, says the night curfew will not serve its desired purpose. Singhal also rues zero support to hospitality sector from the Govt

Well begun is half done, they say. But what do you say when your venture has to close down the very week or so it opens? I had just launched my venture, Breath Fine Lounge & Bar, and had barely got the license to operate on March 12, 2020 when the lockdown was announced. Imagine having a business shut down even before it has properly started!

And we remained shut for nearly six months and could resume business only around mid-September (I had to pay rent for those six months). In what has been a terrible year for businesses across sectors, hospitality was perhaps the worst hit. And just when we are finding feet again now, comes the night curfew.

A busy evening at Breath in happier times

I wish the government imposed a lockdown for a few days rather than night curfew for an unspecified period. For, in my eyes a night curfew does not ‘break the chain’, it only impacts businesses like ours, and in turn the livelihoods of the people we employ. Our night club is allowed to remain open till 1 am, but now we have to close at 9 pm. For a nightlife hub, things only begin to warm up at 9 pm.

ALSO READ: ‘A Pub Can’t Make Profit At 50% Occupancy’

People generally get off work around 7-7:30 pm and then need an hour or so to get ready and travel and then reach a place to unwind at around 9 in the evening. Closing down at 9 means we have to take our last order at 8:15 pm. Where does that leave us? Nowhere!

Our occupancy rates have gone down by more than 50% even when we are just recovering from last year’s setback. We have seating capacity of 200 people, but to ensure social distancing, it was brought down to 100. Yet, only 30-40 people come about in a good day (not at the same time). We used to host corporate parties and family gatherings. That circuit is now lost.

Singhal feels hospitality sector is one the worst-hits by Covid-19

I wish industry representatives had made a team and reached out to the government to tend to the woes of the hospitality sector. We are an entrepreneurial lot and always figure out ways to serve the customers better, but we need some policy support too. Our huge rents could have been waived off at such hard times and excise relaxations could have been provided. The DDMA (Department of Delhi Disaster Management Authority) needs to understand that the pandemic is unprecedented for everyone and the government should assist the more vulnerable sectors, such as ours.

The hospitality sector is seen as a glamorous sector and many of us have financially sound backgrounds. But with a year and more of the pandemic, even those with strong savings are under severe stress. We want to cooperate with the government and fight Covid seriously, but then proper measures need to be in place.

I reiterate, a lockdown for a week or so will bring down more cases than a night curfew. Or maybe if lockdown is not an option, then strict monitoring during the day us required. I am sure we will win the war against coronanvirus, but all the sectors, plus the government and people, need to look out for each other. And we need to keep hoping for better times!

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

‘Quit Self Pity, Learn To Swim Against The Tide’

His medical document describes him as ‘100% Disabled’, but Shams Aalam (34) has others certificates that title him with international gold medalist para swimmer, world record holder in open sea swimming and TEDx Speaker. His story:

I am delighted to have won two Gold and one Silver medals with a new National record at 20th National Para Swimming Championship held in Bangalore recently. From an international level Karate player in 2010 to a record holder paraplegic swimmer, I have come a long way.

In 2010, I was about to represent my country in Asian Games. But as fate would have it I was diagnosed with a benign tumour. The surgical treatment left my lower body paralytic. I lost all sensation below my chest. I needed two persons to carry me from one place to another. It was sheer trauma; I felt like a helpless infant. But my mother, my sister and their children took care of me through that time.

My doctor assured me that I would be able play sports again and I followed his advice but realized that the recovery was slow. I was worried about my future. I searched and read every article on the internet about paraplegia, its recovery, treatment, alternative medicine.

From a Karate Kid in 2010 to Gold Fish in 2018

It then began to dawn upon me that this was a permanent situation and is not going to change. Once I got my disability certificate in 2012 which said that I am 100 percent disabled, I decided that I need to stop crying and find alternative ways to move ahead in my life. My mother was the main motivating force. She would tell me “If Allah has closed one door for you, it will open 1000 other doors. Keep going.”

My doctor had advised me to take up swimming to regenerate my nerves and I had taken it with utmost seriousness. In 2012 I started participating in national events as a paraplegic swimmer. As my mother had said, a new door opened for me.

In 2016, I won a bronze medal at the 2016 Can-Am Para Swimming Championships in Gatineau, Quebec. In 2017 I covered eight km in open sea in four hours, which is a world record. In 2018, I was selected to represent India in Asian Para Games at 100 meter Butterfly and Freestyle, besides other categories.

ALSO READ: ‘A Woman Footballer Still Freaks People’

My disability changed my vision. I feel there is much to do for the betterment and empowerment of the disabled community in the country, and I have a role in it. I associated myself with many initiatives in this direction. I started Para Sports Association in Mumbai, a body that provides a sports platform to people with disability. I have been working with various universities on accessibility issues and have delivered TEDx talks, most by a disabled person, on various issues.

Since 2019, I have been working with Bal Swavlamban Trust, a corporate social responsibility initiative of Gurgaon-based Hella India Automotive. We aim to produce affordable, accessible customized mobility equipment for the disabled. I use a German wheelchair which is good but also very costly. At Hella, we are trying to reduce the cost of mobility equipment from the current ₹1.5-2 lakh to ₹30,000.

Aalam now guides people with spine injury as a peer mentor

I am also working on the sexuality and disability. These are topics which are never raised because of which women and children often get abused, end up being victims of domestic violence and worse. We are also trying to generate proper data on the spinal injuries, other disabilities.

As a peer mentor I guide people with spinal cord injury on how to live their life post-trauma.  My mantra is: accept the way in whatever way you are. Respect yourself, stop self-pitying and start moving. If you want to achieve something, you will find the way to achieve it – either on your feet or a wheelchair.

As Told To Mamta Sharma

‘Eager To Get The Vaccine & Reboot My Roster’

Nita Balmohan Rajesh (37), a Bengaluru-based HR professional, is hoping the age-bar for getting Covid vaccine to be lowered so she could safely step out of the virtual, closed-door world

My eight year old has a complaint: “It’s been 13 months sitting at home, Amma.”

My ten year old daughter chimes in: “It’s been the worst year ever, would you agree Amma?”

“Are you saying we can’t visit our cousins even this summer?” they both ask grumpily.

This is the new-found 2020 mode for my children: Sulk, even cry over the smallest of issues, yell at the sibling, take 45-50 minutes to finish a meal, and the worst, sneak more time on their personal laptops. Gone are the care-free days of playing in the park undeterred, getting a time-out for “pushing” a friend. “There are no friends in the park; who should we play with?” they complain and grudge about restricted hours for using iPads.

My husband, Rajesh, and I do feel guilty of this at times. Indeed, that one hour of screen time that we allow our children due to office engagements never ends as scheduled. “Another five mins please…”

Nita’s misses outings with family

How you wish to travel back in time to pre-March 2020! You woke up, readied the household for school and work, and went to office in person. What a feeling it now seems! Eight hours in a world away from the home. You actually MET people! You hugged some of them and shook hands with many of them. You solved business issues face-to-face and you could understand their speech coherently without the masks getting in the way.

You could see the entire human expression, the twitch in their lips when they disagreed; the eye roll when someone said something disagreeable; the nose turning slightly red when upset or angry. You didn’t have to plead them to turn on the video, or increase the volume. “Hello, can you hear me?” You were certain they heard you clear. You looked forward when the clock struck the hour to be back home. You enjoyed your favorite songs on the radio while cursing the reckless drivers on the road.

ALSO READ: ‘A Year Of Pandemic: Setback & Fightback’

You then came home looking forward to solve world peace-level problems. “Amma, Lalith wouldn’t speak to me today. He’s being best friends with Aditya. What do you think I should do?” Or “Amma, my skates don’t fit me anymore. How will I attend my skating classes tomorrow?” Just reminiscing those episodes brings a huge smile. No wonder we were physically healthier and mentally ‘less depressed’.

You didn’t have the luxury of snoozing your alarms, getting into conference calls un-showered or moving the breakfast hour. There was a purpose you woke up with to complete the 101 to-dos! You looked forward to your work-travel and then the vacation you did take.

Nita with her colleagues

The three things I miss a lot is the feeling of being in an aircraft, in a real office and dropping the kids in their school bus. Is there something wrong with me, I confessed to a friend, and we both laughed.

And the age-limit on being eligible for a vaccine certainly doesn’t make any of this remotely happen anytime soon. I do understand the demand-supply situation and completely support the fact that the older folks are at increased risk and should be prioritized. I am certain millions of us will be willing to pay a retail price to procure these vaccines and move on to our “normal” lives. Hope the 30-something aren’t asking for too much! Are we?

As Told To Mamta Sharma

‘Centre Did Little To Help Businesses Amid Covid’

Biplob Basu, 34, a food entrepreneur, says small businesses suffered due to demonetisation, GST and there was little help during pandemic from the BJP-led government at the Centre

My story is one for the books. Both my parents are doctors but I pursued Hotel Management and chose to be a food entrepreneur. And it hasn’t been a smooth ride. The year I opened Petuk, a home-based eatery with a catering division in Kolkata was also the time when politics began over the palate. What you were eating and serving came under scanner.

People with no understanding of Bangla food, wanted to dictate what others should or should not eat. I would therefore prefer a government which is open-minded and understands plural cultures and cuisines.

There are other reasons too why I would choose Mamata Didi’s Trinamool over the BJP. My food venture had just about begun to break even in 2016 when the Centre announced demonetisation. It was taxing time as people queued before ATMs and eating out was not a priority. Just about when that phase was over, the GST (goods and services tax) was rolled out. My expenses (taxation) rose but not my earnings.

I was barely able to understand the nitty gritty of GST when rumours spread in Kolkata that many eateries were serving carcass meat. People in food business came under stress for two years (2018-19).

Biplob Basu is against mixing politic and palate

I waded through all this and stepping ahead of home-based catering, I opened a restaurant at Hazra (Kolkata) in 2018. A little over an year, and I managed to open another restaurant in Jadavpur in December 2019. And then the pandemic struck, strict lockdown was announced.

The new restaurant was at a rented property. I had to pay the rent, salaries of the staff, while there was no income. That broke my back. I am sure other MSMEs like me suffered a lot too, but Bengal also faced a cyclone (Amphan) during lockdown.

ALSO READ: ‘How I Turned The (Dining) Tables On Covid’

Even when the ‘Unlock’ began in phases, the business did not pick up. I was forced to shut one of the restaurant. I read about Central assistance to small and medium businesses so I went to apply for an MSME loan, only to realise that the process was lengthy and cumbersome, not beneficial for ventures like ours.

Now, with elections upon us, it is payback time. I want a party in power which understands that their decisions taken at the spur of the moment can adversely impact lives of people for years to come. I want a government that can create both a good social and business environment. I want a government that understands people as individuals and not a homogeneous groups with a single story. Clearly, my choice is the incumbent party. I am very happy with the way the Mamata government handled the pandemic.

There were strict checks at regular intervals to see if business units were following all due measures from face masks to hair masks, to regular sanitization of the premises to temperature checks. My entrepreneurship spirit is still alive and kicking and I will definitely steady myself up; all we need is a government that can put a spark into the hospitality sector again.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

‘A Woman Footballer Still Freaks Many People’

Bengaluru-based fashion designer Aloka D’Souza reveals how she has kept her passion for football alive and ‘kicking’

I was probably a six-year old when I took a fancy to football. My brother, then 12, taught me the basics of the game and I took them like a duck to water. I come from a family of sportspersons so I requested my father, an ex-cricketer, to enroll me into a football club. Alas, in early 1990s, there were no football clubs for young women. There was a local field where football was popular but hardly a woman was seen on the ground.

So, on my father’s advice, I trained in basketball. It was a different ballgame, but I did well; even played for the state of Karnataka. When I entered the Degree College at the age of 18, I found a fresh opportunity to play football. I picked the sport up in my first year, and was soon the top scorer, even representing the state a few times. However, post Degree College, it again came to an abrupt end. There were no women to play with.

I had studied apparel design in the college and pursued it as my vocation. The focus shifted from the field to fashion. The venture has now taken shape of Aloka’s Fashion Studio, catering to customized clothing needs.

Aloka (left) with one of her teammates

And as abruptly as it had left, football entered my life again. I met a lady called Queenie in my apartment elevator and she told me about Maya FC (Football Club). Queenie, along with Mari, is co-founder of Maya for Women, an NGO that they started for empowerment, visibility and choices of all women.

Maya FC came under their Maya Outdoors initiative, where the intention would be to encourage women to lead active lifestyles and be physically fit. At Maya FC, we had women coming from a real variety of backgrounds, mostly working women who either discontinued playing after school or college, or had never ever kicked a football before but had a leaning towards it.

ALSO READ: ‘In Our Days, A Woman Driver Drew Crowds’

There was no prerequisite to play with Maya FC, other than the interest to learn and give it a shot. As a team, we were once considered to be one of the best teams in the state, arguably second only to a team of young, professional footballers. The club is no longer there but some of us still, at least once a week or so, join a group of men to play a friendly game of football and have managed to continue it in this manner.

It is only in the past five-six years that we see tournaments and leagues for women football in India. Many people still express surprise when a woman speaks about football or says she plays the sport. Yet, we have come a long way since my childhood. A few weeks back, I was pleasantly surprised to see some 20 young girls practising football with other boys, at the a local ground near my place.

Every child, regardless of gender, should be exposed to a sport or a few of them. Sport can bring a lot of positivity to a person’s life if done right. I think sport, team sport to be specific, plays a vital role in the development of a person. It teaches you important lessons in discipline, commitment, empathy, among other life lessons. And yes, it gives you a string of friends forever.

As Told To Mamta Sharma

‘People Have Thrown Safeguards Out Of The Window’

Dr Abdul Samad Ansari, Director, Critical Care Services, Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai talks about the risks of second covid-19 wave and the need to not lower our guard

The second wave is a known entity. In fact people are now talking about the third wave too. These are but the ripple effects. The spread of a contagion depends on our social behaviour: how we maintain hygiene and how we interact. If you are meeting five to seven people in a day, it can set off a block chain of infection. If you cut down on that interaction, besides using precautionary measures such as wearing masks and sanitising, you reduce the spread potential. It is that simple.

This happened last year. In September we saw the peak. And in the subsequent months, the efforts of previous six months bore fruits. But we started celebrating prematurely. As we lowered our guard, we are now facing the consequence. People returned to their daily routine as if it was business as usual. The resurgence in Covid-19 cases is a direct result of that. April and May will show the same kind of prolonged plateau. But if we again start becoming more careful, follow strict precautionary measures, along with the vaccination, there will hopefully be a flattening of the curve in June.

ALSO READ: ‘In Initial Days, Doctors Lost Sense Of Time’

Unlike the first wave, when majority of the elderly population fell prey to the contagion, the infection is seen more in the 35-65 years bracket. This is a mobile population, who are traveling for work, going out more in public and therefore getting infected.

Thankfully, our systems are not as overwhelmed as last year and the mortality rate is also not high. But if the cases continue to grow manifold, the resources will spread out thin. The same virus with only 100 people today as compared to 1000 people tomorrow will have a different mortality scenario. It is not the virus which is causing it, but the number of cases which will impact the resources and mortality.

I can notice that the attitude of people has gone back to pre-pandemic days. Many of them have this misconception that if they didn’t get Covid for one year during its rage, it won’t happen when it is weakening down. ‘Kuch nahi hota, mujhe kuch nahi hoga, dekha jayega.’ This is the kind of Covid-apathy that is setting in, and it is dangerous.

This pandemic has brought about some kind of hygiene training and discipline among us. There is no harm in maintaining it. My message to public is: we still need to practice these hygiene precautions aggressively; unnecessary travel, gatherings, entertainment activities should be avoided or carried out with behavioural modifications such as sanitizing, scrupulous handwashing and face masks.

ALSO READ: Virus Is There, Fear Is Gone

I have seen 80 percent of people in public do not wear a mask properly. Mostly, these are hanging over the neck. People have also stopped meticulously washing their hands. They feel twice in a day is good enough. People are all over the places. While I don’t want to sound negative, we need to get our guards and shield back.

Frontline workers and their families have suffered for one year, we have to acknowledge those sacrifices and not lower the defence. For a year, since the onset of pandemic, my colleagues and I went home late every night, only to leave early in the morning. I could not take care of my wife, parents and children. On the contrary, I could be possibly walking in with the virus infection every day. This was a real burnout. People must realise that their careless behaviour can negate all the hard work put in by frontline worker for one year.

As told to Mamta Sharma

‘A Year Of Pandemic: First Came Setback, Then Fightback’

Lopamudra, a 28-year-old architect in Ranchi, recounts the hardships and the lessons that one year of Coronavirus brought into her life

What a year 2020-21 has been! I came to Ranchi as a new bride in 2018, with big dreams and a desire to make a name in the field of architecture. I am a freelance architect, which means I work on project-to-project basis.

So, here I was in 2018, taking baby steps towards building a home and a career at the same time. Barely two years into work, in March-end 2020 the pandemic was officially announced, and I wondered what our future would be like! When would the pandemic be over? Would we able to pay our rent? How would construction sector be impacted?

As it turned out, the infrastructure/construction sector was one of the worst affected. It all came to a standstill and labourers started packing off to their villages or hometowns in droves. Since my husband was also employed in the infrastructure sector, it meant a double hit for us.

Apart from not being able to get any new work, our continuing projects also stopped in the lockdown. For nearly three months (March-June) there was no income; we managed with our savings. And we kept praying that neither of us should contract coronavirus.

ALSO READ: ‘In Initial Days, Doctors Lost Sense Of Time’

We decided not to lose heart and take each day at a time. We started learning new aspects of our work by watching YouTube and also took to reading more on architecture, construction and infrastructure. To keep the stress away, I picked up photography and tried capturing beautiful things around us from the terrace during lockdown. It taught me to be positive.

The lockdown was the most difficult period to say the least, as nothing moved in those three months. Even when the phased unlock began rolling out, the scenario was shaky and the future uncertain. No one was undertaking big projects and most migrant labourers still hadn’t made their way back. Figuring out new clients for new projects seemed like an uphill task.

We started networking with people new and old. We had also worked a lot on our communication skills (both verbal and written) and thus armed with new confidence we started doing the rounds. Another month went past without a project, but I finally found one in August.

ALSO READ: ‘Proud To Be Part Of Vaccination Drive’

A little window of hope opened from there and we started rebuilding our lives bit by bit. It has been six months since life gave us a second chance and we are using that chance to the fullest. To say that we have become financially wiser would be an understatement. We now know a lot more about funds, investment plans and policies than ever before. Now my husband and I shop wisely, manage resources skilfully, we keep ourselves in good health, we take all Covid precautions and restrictions seriously and we communicate with each other a lo

A good, attentive partner means you can weather any storm, even that of being without any income for nearly 3 months. People save for a rainy day, last year was like one whole rainy year for so many of us. Financial planning is the need of the hour

‘In Initial Days Of Covid-19, Doctors Lost Sense Of Time’

Dr Arista Lahiri, 31, Sr Resident (Epidemiology) at College Of Medicine & Sagor Dutta Hospital in Kolkata, recounts how healthcare professionals battled the unknown virus and why we can’t let the guard down even now

I was fresh out of medical school when the pandemic struck. Even though my field of study was community medicine and thus I was well-versed with the incidence, spread and possible control of diseases during an epidemic/pandemic, yet nothing had prepared us for a crisis of such epic proportions that affected the whole world.

I was posted at the District Hospital in 24 Parganas (North) and had gone to another city to attend a medical conference in January 2020 when coronavirus began to be discussed seriously. Wuhan was already reeling under its impact and slowly the medical fraternity across the world had begun to realise that the virus was soon going to spread much, much farther than China.

In March-end, when the pandemic was officially declared in India, I dedicated myself completely to fighting the unknown virus. We were a four-member team doing 24×7 surveillance of both active as well as potential cases to target and isolate. We were doing everything from data entry to helping Covid patients get admission in hospitals to occasionally going out in the fields to see how the situation was panning out.

ALSO READ: ‘I Delivered My Child Amid Pandemic’

For two-three months we had no sense of time, putting in every hour of work that we could and going home only to sleep. We had no life outside work for those several months and no outlet to unwind. We just kept each other motivated and in good spirits.

Dr Lahiri says battling the virus is not the job of healthcare professionals alone

I was myself scared of the contagion; there were so many people suffering around us. Each day, I pulled myself up and marched on stronger. My parents were extremely supportive and understood my duty as a medical professional.

While the rest of the country was facing only Covid, nature dealt a double blow to West Bengal: cyclone Amphan. I am quite happy with the way our state government handled the crisis. The entire state machinery from the primary to district to state-level worked in tandem. Post-Amphan, there was a shifting of roles and responsibilities and I was asked to be a member of the Covid State Cell in Kolkata in June end.

ALSO READ: ‘Proud To Be A Part Of Vaccination Drive’

We had all learnt better by then and were able to streamline our work better. The workload eased off just a tiny bit, though we were still checking in hundreds and hundreds of patients each day. One thing I was happy about was that I was now living with my parents in Kolkata.

Since then I have been working in Kolkata itself doing 12 hour shifts every day. Between my work as faculty at the College of Medicine and my work at the Sagordutta Hospital, I have to travel nearly 40 kms each day. We cannot afford to slack off even now, though we can relax a bit.

Battling the pandemic isn’t the job of frontline healthcare workers alone. Community medicine is all about a community’s adherence to rules. Even though vaccines have been developed, we need to understand that new strains of the virus might still take over. So masks, sanitizing and social distancing are still our best bets against the virus! I got both my vaccine shots, but I still take all the precautions.

‘Police Uniform Gives Me A Life Beyond ‘Badhai’ & Begging’

In an exemplary first, Chhattisgarh Police recently recruited 13 transgender persons as trainee constables. Krishi Tandi, 23, one of the recruits, tells her story to LokMarg

The growing-up period for a transgender child is never easy. But if you are born into a poor household of a small town, it can be traumatic. I too faced dilemmas, dejections, discrimination and derogatory remarks at a young age. It was difficult to reconcile to what I felt from inside and what was expected of me in the world out there.

It was only when I met other members of transgender community in Raipur (where I was born), the trauma became bearable. Yet, it pained me that the social mindset in our country leaves the members of transgender community with only two options for livelihood: Begging or Badhai (singing and dancing at wedding or childbirth). I even thought of ending my life at times. But then I met Vidya Ma’am (in 2017) and positivity breathed into my life.

Tandi, fellow recruits and Vidya Rajput (encircled) meet Chhattisgarh home minister Tamradhwaj Sahu

Vidya (Rajput) Ma’am is a community leader who helped other transgender persons fight back the stigma. She told me (and several others) that there was a provision where a transgender can apply for a column in Chhattisgarh Police constabulary. Ma’am herself was past the recruitment age but she wanted others to prepare and appear for the same. Here was an opportunity for me to live with dignity, I realized.

About 27 of us applied online for the posts in December 2017. There would be one physical strength exam and one written test. Both posed a big challenge. We had never seen a running track closely, let alone indulging into any kind of sports activity. How to train with proper sports equipment was another worry. Vidya Ma’am stepped in, once again. She arranged a trainer for us and we put in extra hours to cross the eligibility threshold. During the first few days we returned from the track with swollen limbs, muscle injuries and completely drained. But none of us called it quits.

The written exam carried its own set of hardships. Although I am Class 12 pass-out, the bullying in school had kept me from proper all-round learning. Again, Ma’am sought help from high-ranking police officials in the state and got us a police facility to study and prepare for the exam.

The recruits in in the office of Ajay Kumar Yadav, SP of Raipur Range

A few days before our physical test on April 5, 2018, I lost my father. But that only made me more determined. I cracked my physical tests and looked forward to clearing the written exam, scheduled a few months later. We took the exams but as luck would have it, the results kept getting delayed for one reason or the other. This was followed by one year of lockdown amid pandemic in 2020.

Well, we never thought it would be easy for us to don the uniform so none of us felt disappointed or demotivated. The Chhattisgarh Police finally decided to take fresh physical and written exams in January 2021. This called for fresh training, after one year of little physical activity. We trained hard. This time the physical exam was tougher, and had a few extra strength tests added. The exams were held on January 29 and results were announced on March 1. I cannot express my happiness when I saw my name on the list of the 13 who had cracked it.

I draw my strength from Vidya Ma’am who saw us through from the first post to the final. With a state uniform and badge, I will take this as an opportunity to contribute to our society in a positive manner. The (police) force has been kind in accepting our aspirations, so now it is our time to give back to the institution and society.

With Chandra Prakash Tiwari Police Line RI, Raipur

As told to Mamta Sharma