The Story Of ‘Santhosh To Samyukta’ Is the Proof What Transgenders Can Achieve With Family & Employers Support

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“I chose to be recognised as a transgender woman, so on one friday I went into the operation theatre as Santosh and came out of the hospital on monday as Samyuktha Vijayan.”

We in India have a rich heritage with stories being told over several centuries. One such story that was told in Mahabharata was the story of Arjuna as a Brihanala. Though this story is not ideal, it’s a story which depicts that in ancient India people of other genders were very widely respected. Unlike the post Independence era when people from the LGBT community were widely condemned, discriminated against.

Brunt of the discrimination and stigma is born by the Transgender people. Such is the  stigma surrounding  trans people in our country that many are abandoned by families, not given a fair chance to pursue academics, and are turned away from mainstream jobs, so much so that they have little options but to beg on streets or in trains.  When society is able to look beyond its rules rigid gender roles it has for people, things can change. If trans people have their families’ unconditional support, they can also blossom and thrive. Such is the story of 34-year-old trans woman Samyuktha Vijayan, who made an impact and is giving back to the community.

Samyukta is a qualified software developer and has previously worked in Amazon. Currently, she is working in Swiggy. Her colleagues at swiggy are very proud of Samyukta and hail her contributions. 

Early years

Samyukta says, that while she was growing up she was Santosh, while her parents never pressured her in any way, she herself did not feel confident of expressing herself in the truest sense and never quite felt like herself. While her parents did not say anything and encouraged her she did feel the pressure from her relatives and well wishers from time to time. Just like any other youngster she started working soon after  she completed engineering however a decade or so ago the work environment in India and HR policies were different.

Even though she worked in multinational companies  and while there was mutual respect, everything else was either don’t tell or don’t discuss. In certain instances, like when her colleagues cracked gay jokes upon noticing two guys sitting with their arms wrapped around each other, she couldn’t raise her voice. She felt that it was stifling, she was fortunate to not have faced any direct harassment.

Exploring her sexuality

She wanted to go outside India to get out of the restrictive environment. To an extent the presence of article 370 was also a concern. Samyukta was able to see how normal things could be for a person of different sexuality when she went to Europe in 2012 on work and had a gay manager. This example in front of her boosted Samyuktha’s confidence to speak about herself. She says,“He was married to his gay partner and had adopted children. It was an entirely new world for me. I started opening up, expressing myself and identifying with my sexuality. I always knew I was a girl and was able to communicate my feelings without holding back.” 

The support from Amazon

When she was working in the United States with Amazon, she had a wonderful support group of trans women at the workplace, and was able to fit in without a struggle. She saw examples of trans women who had successfully completed the journey of finding themselves. Samyukta says,“At Amazon where I was working, I got to see more and more members of the LGBTQ family. They were loved for who they were without being judged. Everyone was very warm and welcoming.” In it she saw an opportunity to seek support of these women and Amazon to undertake her journey as well.  

She was able to afford her hormone replacement therapy in 2016 and sex reassignment surgery in 2017 all thanks to the great human resource and insurance policies at Amazon. Samyukta acknowledges the support she received from Amazon both in terms of insurance coverage etc., and great HR policies . The fact that a company had a transition template on how colleagues where to support the trans people was a great boon. She says,“The HR policies were clear about how to deal and interact with transgender people. And how to address or behave with them once the transition was over. I was amazed to see that the company had a transition template. I couldn’t have asked for more,” says Samyuktha.

Unconditional family support

Samyukta always acknowledges that coming from a relatively well to do family and having a professional education really helped her avoid a lot of unpleasant situations which other Indians from the LGBTQ+ community had to face. Her foreign stint and exposure to life altering experiences also played a great role in being able to be true to herself. She also credits her family for being progressive, never clipping her wings and giving her unconditional support in this journey.

She says with great joy, “After my transformation, when I first went home to attend my brother’s wedding, my biggest gift was my mother introducing me to the guests saying ‘meet my daughter Samyuktha’. Since, my mother was so unequivocal in my support no relative could ever dare to question me or make me uncomfortable”

Giving back to Trans community

Abolition of article 370 made her feel that atmosphere is now less stiffling and there are many more options for the LGBTQ+ community than when she started working. During her various visits to India Samyukta felt that India is more accepting than before however, the situation for the trans community back in India was far from ideal. She then decided to quit her job with Amazon and return to India, to help her community lead better lives. 

Samyuktha Vijayan

Via Toute studio

In early 2018, when Samyukta returned to India she married her concern for the environment and her desire to give back. She used her excellent designing skills to source Indian handloom fabrics, skilled transwomen to work on these fabrics to create stunning wedding couture. The difference you ask? Well, unlike other designers she doesn’t intend for her creations to be bought but on the other hand wants people to rent them so that cloth going to landfills in the name of fashion can be reduced. A la “Rent The Runway ” kinds.

Samyuktha Vijayan

The business model has its inherent challenges and Samyukta knows it very well. Samyukta says, “The concept is quite unheard of in India, and that many Indians would be hesitant to wear something that someone else has worn before, but I want to change mindsets through Toute Studio and plan to make Toute Studio branch out into various verticals so that I can help members of LGBTQ+ without formal degrees to eke out a career for themselves.” Toute Studio was previously operational in Bangalore however due to high costs involved she is currently accepting orders for Toute Studio through word of mouth as it’s under the process of reorganization. Her parents are helping her house a physical studio where Samyukta’s creations come to life in their hometown of Coimbatore as well.

At her current workplace : Swiggy

Samyukta is a very valued employee at Swiggy. She has been made a part of “Women in Tech group” along with Diversity and Inclusion(D&I) Council.  She is  currently working with the team to have an in-house LGBTQ+ support group and a community as well. Also she is working on a framework for an internship or a training program so that those who do not have traditional degrees or qualifications can be absorbed in the IT and ITES industry.

Samyukta is a fine example that every one would love to have as a sibling or as a friend. She is fun to be with, is sensitive, polite, patient and very knowledgeable. With varied interests such as Bharatnatyam, writing etc., she is showing how trans women can be exemplary citizens. It was a pleasure to interact with her and I hope many other Samyuktas get support to get wings and reach their potential.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.

Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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