Struggling to make ends meet amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Sajana Shaji, a transwoman in the Indian state of Kerala, started her own roadside biryani business. But, soon, she started facing harassment from local shopkeepers. After Shaji took to Facebook to share her ordeal this week, Malayali celebrities, influencers, and even the state’s health minister came to her rescue.
On October 12, in a live Facebook video that lasted nearly four minutes, Shaji broke down in tears recounting how she decided to start a street stall to sell biryani in Kochi.
She had also offered employment to four other transwomen and a transman who had lost their jobs due to COVID-19. But, she and her employees started facing harassment from the other shopkeepers and vendors in the neighbourhood. She said someone spread rumours about the quality of her biryani, which resulted in massive losses.
She cried as she said that she had started the day with 150 packets of biryani but was able to sell only 20.
Pointing to a pile of biryani packets, she said in Malayalam: “Look at the amount of food that has gone to waste. If you see us begging on trains, you ask us why we don’t work to earn a living. But, when we try, you don’t allow us to. What should we do? There is no one to help people like us.”
She also alleged that despite approaching a nearby police station, she got no help.
Shaji added: “I haven’t eaten anything since morning and have been going in and out of the police station seeking help, but they refused.”
Soon the video went viral, and social media users were moved by her plight. Many asked her not to cry and promised to help her out.
Celebrities also extended support to Shaji. Actors like Fahadh Faasil, Nazriya Nazim, and Rima Kallingal were among many others who shared Shaji’s story, urging fans to support her. According to an Indian news report, Malayalam actor Jayasurya reached out to the transwoman and reportedly offered her support to set up an eatery.
Many others also shared Shaji's contact details on social media urging friends to help her.
Meanwhile, Kerala’s Health Minister KK Shailaja took to Twitter assuring police security and necessary assistance to Shaji. She also said that the state government would provide her with emergency financial aid under the Kerala Social Security mission project.
@shailajateacher tweeted: “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.”
In a follow-up tweet, she added: “Action will be taken against the perpetrators who insulted Sajana and her friends. The government will ensure safe space to work and live with dignity for transgender persons.”