Sahodaran Community Oriented Health Development Society
This is a community development center that works with the transgender and HIV+ population of Pondicherry. It’s on a beautiful, tree-lined street with colorful buildings that definitely put into perspective the grey monotone of Paris. We were welcomed whole-heartedly by a group of transgendered women, their “mother” and a few other people. We spent most of the time discussing transgender issues as that seemed to be the most pertinent. HIV treatment is fully covered by the Indian government so although it’s a serious issue, it is at least fully taken care of.
In India, transgender people are officially recognized as a 3rd gender. There’s a huge amount of discrimination at the societal level, but officially, it is permitted. They are also given ration cards, which act as an identity card. This center works with approximately 1500 people in both the transgender and HIV+ community. Some people live on-site whereas others use it as a center where they are free to be themselves.
We spent quite a bit of time discussing the stigma and abuse these brave people face. Many of them lose their family and their friends and are not able to find much in the way of employment. When asked why they continue the process they said that they’re so determined to live their true selves that they’re willing to live with the consequences. We learned that male-to-female is the most common by far and that female-to-male is even more rejected by society and to pay for the process many resort to begging and sex work. Sexual abuse as children is very common as well.
Again, HIV wasn’t discussed as much. The center links HIV+ people to hospitals and care networks. The government pays a 1500-rupee stipend every month. That amounts to approximately 19euro. It isn’t much, but it’s something. And as mentioned earlier, treatment is fully covered by the Indian government.
In terms of UN Sustainable Development Goals, SCHOD promotes good health and well-being (goal 3), gender equality (goal 5), reduced inequality (goal 10) and peace, justice and strong institutions (goal 16).
This center was so full of warmth. As a gay, HIV+ man, it recalls the various community centers I’ve been in throughout the years. They’re centers in which you can feel both pain and warmth. These are communities who have been marginalized by society and who turn to each other for love and support. These are networks that look out for each other; groups of people who form close bonds that often last a lifetime. From a Western perspective, this center itself is fairly rudimentary in appearance, but it doesn’t matter for these brave people. It was a beautiful place to see.