Wednesday 26 March 2014

Interview with Kalki Subramaniam

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Kalki Subramaniam, a transgender rights activist from India, actress, entrepreneur, the founder of Sahodari Foundation, an organization working for the social, economic and political empowerment of transgender persons in India, and the editor of the English book titled ‘Law Beyond Gender’. Hello Kalki!
Kalki: Greetings Monika. It is a pleasure to know you.
Monika: For many years you have been involved in the legal rights campaign for recognising transgender people in India. Could you say a few words about them?
Kalki: In the Indian constitution, the fundamental rights under part III are enforceable human rights guaranteed to all citizens of this country, whether men, women or transgender people. We, transgender people, however are discriminated in the society because of our gender identity. Only legal recognition can assure our rights. The state has to come up with policies that protect transgender people and initiate measures to empower us.
On that line, I have been sensitizing the judiciary of this country for a better understanding of transgender people’s lives, the issues and problems we face in the society. These campaigns being done along with other transgender rights activists, will bring tremendous changes in the near future.

Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the Indian society in general? Is it changing for the better?
Kalki: It is sure changing for better in some states like Tamilnadu and Karnataka. However, many states of India still are not safe places for transgender people to live, for example Kerala. The state has 100% literacy but has 0% tolerance when it comes to accepting transgender people and allowing them to live a dignified life. India still has a long way to go in recognizing transgender people’s rights. I believe, it will happen for sure in the coming years.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Kalki: I am not active in politics. I will enter politics when I want to. Transgender women can certainly make a difference in politics in a great way. We have gone through so much in life and we certainly understand the pain and need of a common man. We are better than anyone and should certainly come courageously to politics.
The woman I am. I sculpted me,
designed my life, determined to be
happy, caring and beautiful at heart.
Monika: As an actress, you can boast a growing list of movies…
Kalki: ‘Narthaki’ fetched me an award and critical acclaim for my performance in the film. I don’t want to be a star, that is difficult. I want to be known as a good actress. If I do only 3 or 4 films in my entire life, I want to be remembered for my performance in those select films.
Monika: Which film directors, actresses or movies are your inspirations?
Kalki: Maniratnam Sir has always been my favourite director. Savitri, Smita Patel, Sreedevi, Rekha, Tabu, Suhasini, Genelia, Priyanka Chopra, Sandra Bullock, Uma Thurman are all my inspirations when it comes to acting. 
Monika: Some critics say that the contemporary film industry does not provide many opportunities for women to show their talents and stories to a wider audience. Does it hold true for Bollywood productions?
Kalki: Very true. Inmost Indian mainstream movies women are used as decorative pieces of flesh. But it will change for better, and the change is coming. At least it is coming in Tamil films.
Monika: In addition, you are also a businesswoman…
Kalki: My business Brand Kalki Enterprises is a small start up social entrepreneurship which promotes handicrafts made by village craftsmen. I am still learning business and will have to learn more and learn everyday to be highly successful.
Monika: You are a journalist too. What is your view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in Indian films, newspapers or books so far?
Kalki: Indian films have betrayed us and shown us in negative/pervert characters. Fortunately, Indian journalists, whether English or vernacular press have been quite true and honest in the stories and news on transgender people. Media has played a big role in sensitizing the public in our battle for equality. I will always be thankful to the Indian journalists.

This saree I am wearing is a gift from
the person I love and admire.

Monika: At the time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Kalki: Yes, absolutely. Calpernia Addams the transgender actor and singer, French warrior Joan of Arc, and I wanted to be like the admirable women like Lady Diana, Mother Teresa and Sushmita Sen.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Kalki: I used to be this little feminine boy at school and my parents knew right from my childhood that I was effeminate little kid. When I came out to them as a woman, a transgender, they were in complete shock.
It took many days for my mother to come to terms with what I said. I had to prove to my mother that I will live a dignified life when I transition, whatever I become or change to. I worked so hard.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Kalki: Love is magic, love is chemistry. Love can make you great or can make you go insane and destroy you. For me, love has changed my world, love has driven me and designed my path.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Kalki:Yes, I love fashion. But I always go for what suits me and wear those outfits that gives me confidence and happiness. I love both traditional and modern outfits. I love sarees, chudis, anarkalis, patialas, punjabis, and my favourite color is red and white.

On a rock in Central Park, New York.

Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Kalki: I am totally against all these beauty pageants held across the country and around the globe. We don’t need a title to proclaim to the world that we are beautiful. I believe every person is beautiful if they have noble qualities to cherish.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Kalki: Yes, I have thought about it, and my story will be an open and honest account of my life. Transwoman Revathi is an inspiration to me in this aspect. My book will carry many sweet experiences which happened in my life.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Kalki: Be courageous, be with hope, don’t fear, don’t rush. Most transgender women want to transition immediately. It is a whole new life and an identity. Take counseling and go for surgery only if it is necessary.
Don’t take self medication, consult with doctors, consult with friends. Most importantly, make sure you have a career and savings for a new life post surgery. Hold to people who truly love you and be thankful to them.
Monika: Kalki, thank you for the interview!
Kalki: Thank you, Monika! 

All the photos: courtesy of Kalki Subramaniam.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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