Meet Rudrani Chettri Chauhan, a transgender who went against all odds to build India’s first LGBT modelling agency

A transgender activist from Delhi, Rudrani has spent over 10 years spreading awareness and fighting for LGBTQ rights in India

The transgender community in India faces social stigma, alienation, and huge obstacles in their day-to-day lives. Members of the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) community are often shunned by their families and the society, and as a result often find it difficult to lead regular lives and earn a proper livelihood.

Rudrani Chettri Chauhan, a 38-year-old who identifies herself as a transgender woman, has been working towards improving the lives of the transgender community through Mitr Trust.

Mitr Trust

Rudrani founded Mitr Trust in January, 2005 with an aim to reduce the risks of HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), and to improve the reproductive and sexual health of men who have sex with men in developing countries.

“Before 2005, I used to go to different organisations, such as HIV awareness organisations, during which time I was an effeminate boy. I went there to understand the phase I was going through, since I was not comfortable with the body that I was born into. My concerns were different, and they were unable to help me in anyway. Rather, they were trying to control me more, which was happening at other places of interaction as well. So I wanted to move out of this uncomfortable situation, and along with a few like-minded people, I started Mitr Trust,” says Rudrani.

Mitr Trust shares the daily struggles of Indian transgender people,

and works to empower low-income MSM (male sexual minorities) collectivities, groups and networks through technical, financial and institutional support, and to develop and deliver self-help sexual health programmes addressing their needs.

“We can see what huge potential transgender people have if only people will give us the respect to let us live and work in the mainstream, and not marginalise us and treat us as outcast,” says Rudrani.

Mitr Trust has been working in association with Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice on raising awareness on transgender issues. Astraea Foundation has been supporting Mitr Trust to work closely with Delhi Transport Corporation, Delhi Metro and various colleges in Delhi to raise awareness and highlight the issues and problems that marginalised and socially-excluded MSM face, identify solutions and pro-actively promote the resultant findings, as well as understand the context of sexuality, which leads to more effective and sustainable sexual health promotion strategies for transgender communities.

Mitr organised a consultative meet on inclusive education for trans women and gender non-conforming person, and also awareness and sensitisation programmes on trans issues to sensitise college students and to urge them to formulate policies on trans welfare and protection within their institutions.

The Trust has helped over 1,500 transgenders in Delhi alone.

Transgender model agency

Rudrani founded the first transgender modelling agency in December, 2015.

“Transgender people are often self-stigmatised, or lack confidence to pursue any career that they choose to. They are often made to think that are not good enough for anything besides begging or some menial work. We want to change this. Our model agency will offer hope and be a symbol for change. We want transgenders to get respectable, mainstream work in fashion, film and TV, and for media. For too long, our community has faced severe restrictions on the kind of work we can do,” says Rudrani, an English Hons. graduate from Delhi University.

It’s been more than a year since the modelling agency was launched but the agency has been able to do just one project, which was for an HIV-awareness organisation promoting condoms. Although the idea received immense appreciation and people commended the initiative, not many are open to the idea of having on board transgender models for fear that it might make a bad sale or affect their revenue.

“In fact, we did not expect that we will getting a job from the very first day or that people will be very cool about it. After that many people have walked on the ramp, like for Lakme Fashion Week. Slowly and gradually people are getting to know about us and recognising that we are also part of the community. They are starting to recognise that we are as equally talented as any other male or female artiste,” says Rudrani.

The MITR trust has been working with an Indian-British team of filmmakers the past two years to document the lives and struggles of the transgender community, in an attempt to connect it with national and international audience.