Transgender (TG) already existed in India more than 4000 years ago, in ancient Hinduism and Islam, where eunuchs served in the harems of the Mogul rulers. However TGs differ from traditional Muslim eunuchs, who did not dress as women and were sexually inactive.
During the British raj the colonialists passed a law that defined TGs as “sodomites” and as persons causing “homosexual offense”. This was the first time ever in Indian history that TGs were openly discriminated.
It is estimated that more than 25000 TGs in Mumbai move from one place to another within the city limits and outside. To earn a living they perform blessings and greetings to individuals, couples or families on special occasions, some work as professional dancers in bars or during particular ceremonies and others beg at traffic lights. The main problem concerns that 60% involved in commercial sex work. It is estimated that in Mumbai more than 20% of the transsexuals doing sex work are infected with HIV and Maharashtra, the state with Mumbai as capital, accounts for about 1/5 of all people living with HIV in India.
Some of the transgender started prostitution very young, at the age of 14-15, before joining the TG community, others started after becoming part of it. For most of them joining the community is almost a dream, it is the possibility to express themselves and their own nature. The community becomes the family, with sisters and moms. The 1st Lane of Kamatipura is where most of the transgender live in brothels and do sex work. Normally there is a family in each brothel, where the Guru is the owner and leader of each TG working and living in it.
Other TGs practicing sex works live in groups or with their Guru in houses of the suburban areas of Mumbai. In this case transgender do sex work in slums or in isolated places and not in the building where they live to avoid problems with the neighbors. Work starts at seven/eight pm and it ends when there are no more customers. A TG can have an average of 10 clients per night, but some say that in lucky cases they have been dealing with even more than twenty.
The earnings (two Euros per client) are divided in two, a half is for the Guru and the rest is kept for them. According to a common belief among clients, HIV is only transmitted through unprotected sex with female sex workers and not with transsexuals. This could explain the fact that 70% of TG’s customers are heterosexual and married with children, and not necessarily TG or homosexual.
Transgender who do not do sex work, are obliged to beg to get money to live. In most cases this happens once the TG gets positive to the HIV test.
A transsexual known to be HIV-positive is no longer accepted by friends or by the Guru in the brothel as she might affect the reputation and the business. In some cases this is kept secret and they continue to practice in brothel areas, in others cases they move to other places to do sex work.
In general since they are no longer accepted by the Guru, they end up in small groups begging from shop to shop or at traffic lights or on the highway. The weak physical conditions don’t allow an HIV-positive TG to beg for more than 4-5 hours, time during which they normally earn 50-60 rupees each, that is to say less than a euro. This is obviously not enough and in order to pay for housing and medicines, they occasionally also do sex work.