Kerala Transwoman Was Harassed Over Her Biryani Stall. Then the Internet Did Something Amazing

Social Commentary

Kerala Transwoman Was Harassed Over Her Biryani Stall. Then the Internet Did Something Amazing

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

On Monday, October 12, Sajana Shaji was in tears when she went live on Facebook. For the past three months, the trans woman from Ernakulam district in Kerala had run a business of a biryani stall by the roadside. She set up the stall by taking loans from grocers and meat vendors, and poured in all her savings. Shaji also employed four other trans women, as well as a few others. However, for the past month, rival vendors from the area had begun a campaign of discrimination and slander against Shaji’s biryani stall, causing it to lose most of its customers. After weeks of harassment, Shaji posted a tearful video to Facebook Live, detailing her ordeal.

A transwoman from Kerala has been harassed for trying to sell biryani in order to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

— (@news18dotcom) October 14, 2020

“We used up all our savings including the money I had set aside for my surgery to start this biriyani business. I kept thinking that earning a living was more important and that surgery came later. But now I have no means to continue the business. My associate Theertha, a trans woman who had just undergone a surgery was touched inappropriately. He used a lot of sexist slurs against us, when we confronted him,” Shahi said in the video.

“People keep asking us to work and live a decent life, instead of begging on trains and roaming the streets at night. But if the society does not allow us to work respectfully, then what are we supposed to do”

— GatherAroundSisters (@GatherSisters) October 15, 2020

Shahi also said the police had been disinterested in solving the dispute with the rival vendors. Their indifference left the trans women running the stall vulnerable to further harassment. Fortunately for Shaji, her video was widely shared on social media. The increased attention after going viral triggered a wave of support.

Is there any way we can help Sajana ?

— shripad శ్రీపద్ (@shripad__) October 14, 2020

In addition to social media users trying to organise help for Shahi, even Kerala’s Health Minister, KK Shailaja, announced that Shahi would be provided police protection going forward and that action would be taken against the perpetrators.

Spoke to Sajana, transgender person who was attacked by anti-social elements yesterday. Sajana earns her living by selling biryani by the roadside in Ernakulam. Assured that necessary assistance and security will be provided.

— Shailaja Teacher (@shailajateacher) October 13, 2020

The story of Sajana Shahi’s biryani stall in Kerala is similar to that of Baba ka Dhaba in Delhi. In both cases, an underprivileged citizen trying to make ends meet was uplifted by the power of social media. It makes you wonder why so many people choose to spend their time there being trolls.