When Tina was approached by her friends and residents of Ward number-38 in Cuttack city to contest as a Corporator nominee for the forthcoming Municipal Elections, she was not only surprised, it was also hard to believe for her.
The suggestions initially seemed to be a big joke to her. But now, after she came out to campaign in the same Ward as the only transgender contesting elections in Cuttack Mucipal Corporation, which has been her work place for years, it is like a realization of her dreams.
Tina alias Tanushree Behera(28) has been involved in social work for more than 10 years now. She belongs to the transgender community. And she is the only contestant of her gender in the fray for the position of Corporator in the entire municipality.
Her Ward ( No 38), which comprises Chhatra Bazar and the Malgodown areas, has some of the largest slums in Cuttack including Behera sahi, Das sahi, Nua sahi, Suryanagar Basti, Sagar sahi and Coal Depot slum.
Born as a boy to a middle class family at Sikharpur in Cuttack, Tina found her calling to be a woman when she was in her teens. Rejected by her parents for her feminine traits, she left home at the age of 14 and reached Jaleswar in Balasore where she was accepted by the transgender community and began her journey as one among them.
However, the traditional ways of earning by the community, which mainly involved begging and dancing in parties hosted by others, did not augur well for her. Thinking about her future and the community as a whole, she left Jaleswar and came back to Cuttack. Her family was still in denial. So, she lived at Suryanagar slums in Ward number 38 and started working for the betterment of her community members and other slum dwellers.
From Cyclone Fani to the artificial floods caused by waterlogging in the area, and to helping the needy during the Covid induced lockdown, Tina was all over the place helping people even beyond her capabilities.
Her educational qualifications, which include an ITI degree from ABIT in Cuttack, helped her earn a good name in the area. She is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree at a college in the city.
Asked about her political affiliation and ambitions, Tina told odishatv.in, “More than cosing up with political parties, I would rather serve people independently. I have the goodwill of people to my favour. And I know, more than any party, the voters here exercise their franchise keeping the candidate in mind.”
Speaking about her preparations and the issues she will raise to attract voters in her Ward, Tina said, “My major concern is to get justice for the slum dwellers who were thown out of their homes by the local authorities under the SCB Hospital Expansion Project.
The residents of the slums in this Ward were paid a paltry sum of Rs 50,000 each and asked to vacate the area overnight which is truely unethical. It takes years to build a home. If the administration asks you to take Rs 50,000 and get lost immidiately, where would you go?” asked Tina.
Her worst nightmare turned into a reality when the displaced slum dwellers who were asked to stay in temporary tents at Balisahi, far away from their work place, lost their roof to a norwester and hailstorm which blew away the tents the very next day.
She went on.“The situation has changed now. They have built their homes and currently staying there. But it is very difficult and expensive for them to commute for work from Balisahi. If I am elected, I will launch a shuttle bus service for those people in order to save their precious time and hard earned money,” she said.
Among other issues, she aims to address the healthcare and education problems in her Ward. As per her claims, she wants to reform the healthcare facility for transgenders who face continuous discrimination wherever they go. She even wants to open an Anganwadi Centre in Ward number 38, which has been carved out by the slum dwellers since ages.
Residents of the Ward, particularly from the same community, seem to have pinned high hopes for Tina's victory. “I know she will win the election. She is a popular face here and helped people in their needs. I am sure people will definitely vote for her as their Corporator,” said a transgender.
Whether win or loss, Tina seems unfazed about the outcome. Perhaps because, she knows she will have to tread the thorney path for years to come, untill and unless parents, in particular, and the society as a whole, did not accept the community as one of them.
“The government has floated many schemes for people like us, but as long as the minds of our parents and the society did not open for transgenders, our fate is as good as sealed,” she rued.