It may have been 1994-95. The year is a bit blurred now, although the events are crystal clear in my mind. We were sitting in a village in Korba, then Madhya Pradesh and now Chhatisgarh. This was long before the days of controversy on Section 377 of the IPC (the law dealing with homosexuality inIndia) became the raging public controversy it was to become and I was to join the group of petitioners asking for its reading down to exclude consenting adults.
This is the story of Kamraddhani, a single middle-aged woman and Kailash, a transvestite, two people on the margins of society who have come together is a symbiotic relationship.
We were four of us holding a meeting on impact of displacement due to the power plants in the area, with the villagers. A woman stood quietly at the edge of the group. The sari worn traditionally, heard covered, she had a permanently shut right eye, and she stood holding a thaili (a cloth bag that is used so often). She did not say word while the meeting was going on.
As we finished and the group dispersed, she came and started walking next to me. She introduced herself and said she lived in the village—but a little further off. Her husband was now dead and she lived alone with another ‘person’. Should we not hear her story?, she demanded. Of course, we would we assured her.
Her experience of displacement and rehabilitation was no different from others but her own life, how and where she lived was definitely special and heart warming.
We kept walking and talking. Kamraddhani was named after the village Karamdhin she was born in. She was married off as a child to a man in Dari village. When she was 14 or 15 she met a Malayali contracter, Thomas and ran away with him and came to live in another village from which they had been displaced when their land was acquired. So they moved to Bhadrapara where we met her. Here they managed to buy two and half acres of land and were living very well. However, she could have no children. So she sold all her jewellery, dipped into their savings, gave Thomas Rs.15,000 and sent him back to Kerala so that he could get married again.
Alone- single and childless, she was confined to margins of the village. Villages in India are not very kind to single childless women treating them as witches and inauspicious. If she has property, then she is even easier prey to violence and the grabbing of her property. The fact that she looked different with her permanently shut eye did not help.
As we kept walking we reached almost to the end of the village and she now began insisting we cross the small stream and go to her house. It was beginning to get dark and we hesitated but she was insistent. We must go to with her and meet the person she lives with. Whats so special about this person we asked. He is actually a man she said, but he is dresses as a woman. “I am alone and everyone in the village is ready to grab my land, although they don’t wasn’t to be friendly with me. Kailash has nobody. I am not sure where he is from…but he arrived in my house and asked if he could work for me. I am an old woman and alone. He is young and strong and so he looks after my field for me does all the sowing and harvesting. Lives in my house….”
While we talked we reached the house and it was by now very dark. Kamradhhani pulled out a charpai and we sat down. Suddenly we heard the sound of bangles. Looking back we saw this large woman in a traditional clothes, long hair, bangles and traditional chattisgarhi jewellery -kamarbandh around the waist and anklet standing behind us. Except when she spoke to greet us it was deep male voice. It was Kailash.
Two people, alone and vulnerable, had found each other in a mutually supportive relationship. Both lived in a society where they belonged and yet were alien because of their peculiar circumstances. They looked after each other and supported each other. By taking Kailash in and virtually adopting him, Kamradhhani had given him a social status and acceptance. Kailash provided the physical labour and the protection Kamraddhini needed.
We walked back through the village, all four of silent with what we had seen and experienced about this symbiotic relationship.