MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A television commercial that tells the real-life story of a transgender woman and her adopted daughter has sparked a conversation about transgender rights in India, where the community still faces deep biases despite gaining rights.
The advertisement for Procter & Gamble’s Vicks brand is narrated by Gayatri, who was adopted as a young girl after the death of her birth mother, a sex worker, by Gauri Sawant.
The 3.5 minute commercial has racked up more than 9 million views on YouTube since its release two weeks ago.
As Gayatri, 15, tells the story of how she came to live with “mummy”, who cooks her favourite foods and watches horror films with her, her mother is revealed to be a transgender woman.
“Mom has faced so many problems in life,” Gayatri says.
“Everyone is entitled to basic rights. Then why is my mom denied them? That’s why ... I will become a lawyer. For my mom.”
In a landmark judgment in 2014, India’s Supreme Court ruled that transgender people had equal rights under the law and granted legal status to the third gender.
Transgender women, known as hijras, have long been considered auspicious in India. They feature in Hindu mythology, and their blessings are sought at weddings and births.
But most of the country’s 2 million transgender people face discrimination from a young age.
They now have the right to marry and inherit property, and are eligible for quotas for jobs and in educational institutions, but they are not allowed to adopt.
Several transgender people use loopholes to become a guardian rather than a parent, but the process is arduous and uncertain, said Pallav Patankar at LGBTQ organisation Humsafar Trust.
“The ad rightly shows that trans women can also be loving, capable mothers,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Why not allow them to adopt kids who are otherwise languishing in homes?”
Since being included in India’s census survey for the first time in 2011, there have been moves to extend more benefits to transgender people, including pension and housing.
A pop band of transgender women even featured on the soundtrack of a Bollywood movie last year.
But biases still persist, said Sawant, a social worker.
“My family threw me out of the house when I was 18, and hasn’t made contact since,” she said.
“We have more rights, but people still view us differently. We just want to be educated, go to work and be able to raise children, like everyone else.”
Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.