In 2006, Kalki Subramaniam wrote and published her first blog post, probably the first by a transgender woman in India. Within days, her autobiographical post on life as a transgender person in India got hundreds of comments.
“I was unsure about blogging. Back then, not many people had taken it up,” said the Chennai-based transgender activist.
“But positive reactions made me realise that it was a great platform to tell my side of the story, garner support, bust myths about transgender community and also form alliances. It also gave me confidence.”
Kalki, who founded the NGO Sahodari, wanted to use technology to help other members of the transgender community, especially disadvantaged and impoverished trans women. The result was Project Kalki (www.projectkalki.com) where trans women in India are trained for free to become online journalists and write about issues and problems affecting transgender people.
Kalki got the idea to do this when she received a scholarship in 2009 from a project that trains a woman from every Indian state to become journalists. As part of the scholarship, she attended a video workshop in Goa.
“I made numerous short documentaries and features on the transgender community using my newly learned skills. But I felt that was not enough. We needed more voices for our (transgender community) stories to be heard,” said Kalki, who holds a post-graduate degree in mass communication and journalism.
She began with eight participants, mostly trans women living in Tamil Nadu who earned a living begging or as sex workers. She taught them basic skills like how to handle a camera, shoot video, write a script, record audio and post video online.
The project fills an important gap left by India. The government provides funding for projects regarding sexual health, but not for transgender people to develop professional skills.
Project Kalki faced some problems in the beginning. Most trans women are school dropouts and lack basic knowledge of grammar and sentence structure. They needed someone to teach them how to write scripts and learn basic computer skills.
Soon, Kalki’s students started making short documentaries. They made documentaries on transgender identity, harassment faced by trans women and their ideas on love and marriage.
These films garnered much appreciation and were screened at the Russian Culture Centre and Alliance Francaise. In 2010, the India Network for Sexual Minorities (INFOSEM) gave the project a grant of 25,000 rupees ($371) to make short features on AIDS awareness. It paid off when Kalki received a grant from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2012. In the last eight years, Kalki has successfully trained around 25 trans women.
Future plans include training trans women in social media management and digital marketing.
Kalki now employs many of her former students as digital media coordinators for her NGO Sahodari, and others have found jobs of their own.
“I didn’t know I had it in me to shoot videos, capture people to tell a story,” said Soundarya, a freelance videographer and journalist. “When my movie was screened at the Russian film festival, I received so much praise. It felt good to be recognised for my skills and not my gender identity for once.”