Meet the Chennai transwoman who helps people in her community apply for Government documents – The Hindu

Chennai News

The story of transgender social worker Sowndharya Gopi, who has carved a name for herself for helping people from her community

The story of transgender social worker Sowndharya Gopi, who has carved a name for herself for helping people from her community

A decade ago, when she was in Coimbatore for Sahodari Foundation’s Kovai Rainbow Festival, Sowndharya Gopi was a bashful young girl who wouldn’t speak much. Today, though, Sowndharya, who is from the transgender community, is a completely different person. When she walked up to the stage to receive the Transgender Icon Award at Kumaraguru College of Technology last week, she was confident and poised. The Chennai-based Sowndharya is now a social worker, and was in the city to participate in Visibility Awards. The event was organised by Sahodari Foundation in view of International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31.

Sowndharya was born and raised in Royapuram in Chennai. She was forced to leave home at a young age due to non-supportive parents. Her life was one of struggle and constant searching: for genuine friends and a means to stand on her own feet. Today, mention her name to anyone in her Ernavoor neighbourhood and they will point you to her house. “Everyone knows me there,” she says, speaking over phone from Chennai.

Many transgender people come looking for Sowndharya. “I help them apply for Government documents such as Aadhaar card, PAN card, community certificate, and voter’s ID,” she explains. Not that she has any connections at Government offices. “I simply go with them and speak to the concerned people on their behalf, asking them what document proofs are needed,” she says, adding: “I speak firmly as though I mean business.”

Navigating Government offices, their many departments and numerous staff can be confusing for anyone. “This is even more difficult for transgender people, for a lot of them are met with harsh words,” says Sowndharya. “I know of so many people who are walked over. Sometimes, we need to state our rights outright, in case people on the other side do not remember them.”

Sowndharya is the Technical Advisor of Snegithi, a Community-Based Organisation that has its office at Tondiarpet, Chennai. During the initial months of the pandemic, she was part of a community kitchen run by transgender people who provided free meals to the homeless and ambulance drivers in Chennai.

When she is not helping people in her community, Sowndharya is practicing dance. “I do folk and western and perform at stage shows across Tamil Nadu,” she says. Among the best moments in her life, is being recognised for her work by fellow transgender activist Kalki Subramaniam. “When I met her for the first time in 2009, she told me, ‘I have faith in your potential’,” recalls Sowndharya. “Those are words one never forgets.”