Shreegauri Sawant is a transgender activist from Mumbai, India. She founded an NGO Sai Sawali that helps transgender people and people with HIV/AIDS. She was featured in an ad by Vicks. She was made the goodwill ambassador of Election Commission in Maharashtra.
Shreegauri adopted a girl named Gayatri in 2008 after Gayatri's mother died of AIDS.
She had to file a petition in the Supreme Court of India for adoption rights of transgender peoples and finally she won the petition.
By raising Gayatri as her daughter, Shreegauri has proved that motherhood is behavior and need not be biological.
Please Watch this 2 mins video to get glimpses of her life journey so far.
Do read her full interview with Inspirational Beings team to know what all challenges she had to go through during her journey, how did she manage to overcome those challenges, what are some of her best and worst experiences so far, what are her learnings and what is her message to our readers.
Please tell us about your childhood and personal background?
I was born as a boy with feminine tendencies in a middle-class family. My father worked in the Indian Police, and my mother was a housewife. I have one elder sister.
My mother passed away when I was nine years old, and then the awkward phase of my life started. My father used to hate my feminine characteristics and used to beat me as he could never understand it was natural.
I had a problematic childhood wherein I was confused about my likings, nature, and my family’s expectations. That time, I never knew, I was a transgender or a girl, but I enjoyed girls' company and played all girl's games. I never liked playing with boys. Many times, I was reprimanded for that also, but it was the way I was born. My father asked me to leave the house when I was eighteen as he felt, I brought shame to the family because of feminine inclinations
Tell us about your time and hardship you had to go through after leaving the house?
I had to leave my home, my family, and my city, but I kept my identity intact. I left the house with $1 and traveled to Mumbai; I happened to meet with one gay turned trans sex worker who fed me for a few days and cared for me. Since I was not fair or good looking, I didn’t get pulled into sex work. Luckily, I never had to beg in public like other unfortunate transgender people.
Later, I was introduced to Humsafar Trust, which is one of the oldest LGBT organization in India. Since I have a skill of interacting with people, I got an opportunity to work in a communication and outreach team of Organization. I earned a salary of $30 then. My job involved counseling people who were in gender crises and to motivate and guide them to accept their identity wholeheartedly.
What are some of the critical challenges you handled, and how did you overcome them? What are your learning’s from those challenges?
My first challenge was dislike and hatred from my own family. The other was, anybody and everybody would make fun of me because of my female character in the male body.
Rejection from family and society at every step of life was tormenting.
When I left my home, I wandered on Mumbai roads without food, clean water, and secured shelter for days. Since I was born and raised in a protected environment; I was terrified initially, but I realized my own identity and freedom from prejudice was important than the protected environment. I continued living that life on the street and with the transgender community.
Transgender people generally have no option of employment than becoming a sex worker or begging in traffic, but luckily, I could get a job in LGBT organization for the transgender community.
When I adopted a daughter, even then it was difficult to travel or move around in a city with my daughter as many times people felt that the transgender might take the girl for sex work. People looked at me with doubt and scornfulness.
Why you thought of adopting a girl, and how are you finding that experience?
I work with many people and help them through my NGO, my main task is to spread awareness about STDs and encourage sex workers to get tested. One of them was Gayatri's birth mother, an HIV positive sex worker. Later I got to know; her mother passed away, Gayatri was just five then.
When I got to know about the heinous plan of selling Gayatri off for Sex work, I was distressed and wanted to protect her from her vulnerability. I never wanted that poor girl to suffer for the rest of her life. Thus I adopted her. Later, when I started nurturing her, I felt I got the best blessings from God.
What’s the inspiration behind starting "Nani ka ghar" and tell us about this project?
While working for the sex workers, I realized their kids have to see their mothers work in those red-light areas, and that's the heart-wrenching situation. Children play with Condoms like balloons, and their mothers are helpless and can't afford to keep their children at safe places or day care centers while they work as sex workers. Many times these young girls are forced into prostitution.
Nani ka Ghar is a shelter home which I am building for kids of sex workers and abandoned kids. They will be provided with food, shelter, care, and education which they deserve. I believe that these children will do their best and blossom if they get basic amenities, love, and care. Currently, I have eight girls in our home.
We are building a two-story building; the land for the home has been donated. I have put in the money I won on Amitabh Bachchan's quiz show Kaun Banega Crorepati. I am raising more funds for the home through crowdfunding.
Which are the best and worst experience you had in your life journey?
The best experience of my life was when my daughter introduced me as her mother in her school function and to her friends. I enjoy my motherhood in her company. When I was a young kid, I always wanted to be a mother, and I feel, my dream came true. Moreover, in 2014, I got the legal status of being a mother to my daughter.
My worst experience was when I saw my old father after many years on the road, he was struggling to cross the way, but I couldn't help him pass the road, as I knew, he would not like me approaching him even in his needs. He always hated his relationship with me, & my being around with him, even in his need will add to his agony.
How do you keep your motivation up in your low time, when you feel like giving up?
My highest motivation is seeing the happy faces of my young children. I have nothing to look up to in my own life, but these kids and their future is my highest priority. I derive motivation by serving, protecting and caring for them. In tough times, I keep reminding myself, I am the only one for them in this entire world, so I must stay strong and overcome all the hurdles.
What’s your plan?
All my girls should lead a good life and should not be vulnerable to outside pressures. I want to ensure the children of sex workers do not get trafficked into the profession and lead a beautiful life.
Empowering transgender people: I dream of a world where transgenders are treated with respect and acceptance for who they are. They should be earning through respectful jobs by developing their skills than begging on the roads
What’s your message to viewers?
Rather than feeling wrong about the problems in society, we should do our share of correcting those problems. Help selflessly and accept wholeheartedly.