The Occupational Aspirations of Transgender Individuals Working at the Kochi Metro Rail Limited, Kerala 

Ayesha John
Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts
Symbiosis International University (Deemed)


The study aims to understand the occupational experiences of transgender individuals employed in the Kochi Metro as a part of  KMRL-Kudumbashree Initiative that began in 2017 and the resultant effects on their lives. It aims to find the nature of their work experience as employees of KMRL, their occupational aspirations and the factors that influence the same, and the manner in which their inclusion in a public sector scheme has impacted their lives and aspirations. Semi-structured, telephonic interviews were conducted on a one-on-one basis with 5 out of the 13 trans individuals currently working in the Kochi Metro. The results revealed that all 5 of the respondents wish to continue working at the metro and  do not plan to their current workplace due to the job security and gender-affirming nature of the initiative. However, factors such as low salary, difficulty in managing living expenses and the lack of mobility within their profession have been identified as highly impactful to their work experience, adversely affecting their aspirations. 

Keywords: Transgender employment, occupational experiences, aspirations, trans-inclusionary public sector schemes, Kochi Metro Rail Limited-Kudumbashree, trans-inclusive workforce.

Introduction and Background

In June 2017, the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) in Kochi, Kerala, began the state’s first metro line and India’s first multimodal transport system. The Kochi Metro was lauded for being the fastest metro rail construction in India and was subsequently awarded the Best Urban Mobility Project in India by the Urban Development Ministry.  However, the feature of the Kochi Metro that garnered the most recognition and was internationally acclaimed was its efforts made towards social inclusion in collaboration with the Kudumbashree, which is both the state poverty eradication mission (SPEM) of the Kerala government and the women-run community network, to employ transgender people in the KMRL stations. At the forefront of the Kochi Metro Rail initiative, the Kudumbashree Facility Management Centre (FMC) took on KMRL as their first client to ensure employment opportunities for 780 cisgender women and 23 transgender people within services such as ticketing, customer care, housekeeping and gardening (Kudumbashree, n.d.). 

The KMRL-Kudumbashree initiative of 2017 came into being just two years after the Kerala government unveiled its own Transgender Policy in 2015; Kerala was hailed for being the first Indian state to release a transgender policy. The policy was drawn up largely on the basis of a state-wide survey of transgender (TG) persons and the Indian Supreme Court ruling in 2014 regarding the constitutional rights of transgender people . The policy emphasises the rights of transgender individuals to identify themselves as per their gender orientation and has provisions for social representation, economic opportunities, legal recognition and protections, and access to required services and resources (Press Trust of India, 2015). 

Despite the TG policy being drafted with the aim of protecting the identity of transgender people and ensuring their safety, the stigmatisation and social cost of their identity largely dictates their socioeconomic status, the employment opportunities they receive, their living conditions, their daily interactions and the costs that accompany their gender transitions (often by means of hormone therapy and/or surgery. Schemes that are designed for marginalised communities as a whole within a particular sector are often ones that do not take into account these aforementioned factors that interplay with their ability to make the most of the opportunities that are made available to them. Articles in news agencies such as LiveMint, the News Minute and the New Indian Express, published in 2017, 2019 and 2020 (M.K., 2017; Jayarajan, 2019; Oommen, 2020). respectively, report on the struggles faced by the transgender staff in the Kochi metro. The meagre salary that does not cover their monthly living expenses and the discrimination they face as a result of deep-rooted prejudice were at the top of the long list of issues reported by some of the trans women who were interviewed.  One article mentions that many of the staff had to resort to finding other jobs on the side, including sex work. The reports and the stories of the lives of some trans women interviewed in these articles will be discussed in further sections of this paper. However, the central theme in all of these is one that describes the difference between the reality of the implementation of the scheme as opposed to the optics surrounding the progressive step taken by both the state and KMRL-Kudumbashree initiative. 

This paper aims to understand the occupational experiences and aspirations of the trans people employed by the Kochi Metro Rail Limited. However, its focus goes past understanding the lived realities of those individuals from communities that are often encompassed in inclusion and welfare schemes to critique the unidimensional lens through which their needs, issues and experiences are often viewed. This study aims to understand the interaction of various factors of the employees’ identity, the nature of the job given to them within the context of state support, and the ability to aspire. 

The introduction of the study focuses on creating a comprehensive understanding of the KMRL-Kudumbashree scheme and trans identity in the Indian context through the national TG policy of 2014, the Kerala state TG survey and policy, the Godrej Manifesto of Trans Inclusion in the Workplace, and newspaper reports that explore the lives of trans people in the KMRL workforce. Further, work experiences and ‘occupational aspirations’ and what theyentail for the transgender community are defined and elucidated. Additionally, pertinent themes are understood by way of reviewing existing literature and studies conducted. Beyond this introductory section, the paper is further divided into 4 sections, namely Methodology, Summary of Interviews, Discussion, and Conclusion. 

The Kochi Meteo Rail Limited-Kudumbashree Initiative, 2017

Kudumbashree made its first foray into the facility management sector by establishing the Kudumbashree Facility Management Centre (FMC) to address the concerning levels of unemployment of women in the state and their economic marginalisation during the development process (Kudumbashree Facility Management Centre, n.d.). The FMC hires women from across Kerala to provide facility management services to various private and public sector organisations. Their first venture, as mentioned above, began in the KMRL with the FMC employing 780 cisgender women in areas of service such as customer care, ticketing, housekeeping and gardening. The staff selection process was rigorous, with nearly 40,000 applicants going through rounds of written exams, interviews and a skill training programme. However, what garnered international recognition was the first batch of 23 transgender individuals who were employed in these service areas. They too went through an intensive three-month training programme before they were appointed in different roles on the basis of their educational qualifications and experience. 

The experiences of the transgender workers, as chronicled by articles in the News Minute in 2019 (Jayarajan, 2019), the New Indian Express in 2020, “Transgender staff of Kochi Metro struggle to keep life on track” (Oommen, 2020) and Live Mint in 2017, “Transgenders in Kochi Metro: The unsaid story”  (M.K., 2017), showcase a different reality filled with hardships that are in stark contrast to the publicised success of the initiative. The News Minute titled their 2019 article “Not real inclusion, just a PR gimmick.” It revealed that since the first batch of 23 transgender people were hired, by 2019, the trans workforce grew to 43, before sharply declining to a mere 11 people (Jayarajan, 2019).

Through interviews with numerous trans women who make up the FMC workforce at the KMRL, the following details of their experiences were discovered across the three articles:  

  • Initially, many of those in the workforce believed that they were officially KMRL employees who had bagged a government job. The importance of the title of the government job has to do with the respect it garners from society and the prestige associated with it.  Later, they discovered that they were “contract workers for the Kudumbashree FMC” to whom the KMRL project was sublet (Jayarajan, 2019).  
  • On the basis of their educational background, the staff were given jobs in the housekeeping department (for those who had not passed their SSLC examinations) and the ticket collection or management departments (for those who had passed their high school or were graduates respectively) (Jayarajan, 2019).
  • Their salaries ranged from Rs. 8,000 to Rs. 13,000 based on their positions (Jayarajan, 2019).
  • Many of the workers quit their jobs within the first two months of their joining. Later this number grew. The reasons that pushed many of these trans individuals out of their jobs include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

After meetings in 2017 and 2018, the KMRL reportedly arranged for some accommodation to be made in the Kakkanad locality of Kochi for trans individuals (Jayarajan, 2019). However, the problem of commuting wasn’t adequately dealt with. Further, the KMRL spokesperson said that they continued to hold talks with the trans workers in order to better understand their concerns. They went on to say that the news articles dramatised their reportage of these stories.

What appears to be clear, however, is that the social costs of the trans individuals’ gender identity and their needs and other facets of their life weren’t adequately considered when drafting the policies for the initiative and its implementation. The harsh repercussions of the same were faced by the workers themselves. 

These narratives and reports aid in contextualising the objectives of this study, its findings, and the implications of work experiences on the trans workforce. 

The Transgender Identity in the Indian Context

‘Transgender’ is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth and includes trans men and trans women though it may also include people who are non-binary or genderqueer (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation [GLAAD], 2007). In India, though the number of transgender individuals was estimated to be 487,000 according to the 2011 census, they were their gender identification was not acknowledged until very recently (“Transgender in India”, 2011). They lacked legal recognition until 2014, and were inhabitants of a zone where official identification is absent, which naturally had devastating and far-reaching consequences for the community in sociocultural, economic and political spheres (M.K., 2017).   

As defined in the Godrej India Culture Lab’s Manifesto for Trans Inclusion in the Indian Workplace, an individual’s gender identity is their “internal, deeply held sense of their gender,” which for transgender people “does not match the sex they were assigned at birth” (Nambiar & Shahani, 2018). While gender identity isn’t always visible, gender expression is the external manifestations of gender “expressed through a person’s name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behaviour, voice, and/ or body characteristics” (Nambiar & Shahani, 2018). 

The 2014 case of National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) vs Union of India and Others was game-changing for the transgender community as it mandated that a trans person be allowed to self-identify as the gender of their choice and also stated that sex reassignment surgery (SRS) was not a prerequisite for identifying as trans (Nambiar & Shahani, 2018). Trans individuals were to be provided reservations for work and in educational institutions as they were to be considered as a socially and economically backward class (Nambiar & Shahani, 2018).  In 2019, the Parliament of India drafted the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act after the feedback and criticisms that the 2018 Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill received. The 2018 Bill and the 2019 Act  were preceded by a 2016 Bill. The 2019 Act came into force on 10 January 2020. However, an important point to note is that the 2019 Act, though  modified, did not take into consideration all the criticisms against the previous versions of the bill, and was met with widespread protest and further criticism. The primary problem with the 2019 Act was that it transgressed the 2014 NALSA judgement which lays down the right to self-determination of one’s gender identity. According to the 2019 Act, a transgender person needs to have undergone a gender affirmation surgery to receive a certificate from a screening committee and the District Magistrate legally recognising their gender identity (TNM Staff, 2019). The Act was also criticised for deeming the transgender person as inferior to those who are cisgender on the basis of the differences in certain protections and rights granted to transgender people. For example, the maximum sentence of punishment for those charged with sexual assault of a transgender person is 2 years while the minimum sentence for sexual assault of a cisgender woman is 10 years. The Kerala State Transgender Policy, on the other hand, has been widely lauded for not including gender affirmation surgery as a prerequisite to gaining a certificate. In addition to this, the policy also mentions  that it will support any steps for affirmative action to ensure access to education, health and public appointments. According to the coordinator of the Kerala-wing of Sangama, a non-governmental organisation for sexual minorities in India which was instrumental in the framing of the state’s transgender policy, the policy was drawn up after a workshop with representatives of the transgender community (Sethuraman, 2015). However, there are issues relating to  ensuring proper implementation, reviewal and revision in accordance with the needs of the transgender population. In 2021, the amicus curiae appointed by the Kerala High Court submitted a report stating that the state government had failed in properly implementing its transgender policy, arguing that it had “a lackadaisical attitude” towards ensuring that the measures specified in the policy are carried out (Oommen, 2021).  It is against this backdrop that transgender people in the state and around the nation have had to navigate their diverse experiences and struggles both surrounding and beyond their gender identity.  

In the Global South, the intersections of gender and class, and in the case of India, predominantly caste, take place beneath the landscape of power structures that are partly a product of the region’s violent colonial legacy. The transgender identity is thus interwoven within the distinct, different social hierarchies that historical circumstances engender. This is a crucial factor for policymakers to remember when drafting policies aimed at aiding marginalised communities because it is key to ensuring that the numerous layers that make up the lived realities of these individuals are not forgotten or modified and that their contributions to the struggles faced by the community are not minimised. The Kerala State TG Policy, in this case, was drafted on the basis of state-wide needs assessment of 4,000 transgender people when the total population of transgender people in the state was estimated to be 25,000 in 2015 (Orinam, 2015). The real numbers for the same is possibly much higher than this, however, due to the fact that many people may not be open about their identities and/or be documented or legally certified just as yet. 

While the occupational experiences and aspirations of transgender individuals specifically employed by the Kochi Metro Rail Limited, Kochi, is an area of study that has not been methodically explored and investigated thus far, there exist numerous studies that examine one or more of the factors of interest relevant to the field of study.   

Kurian and Manoj (2021) studied the impact of welfare schemes in Kerala on transgender people, including the Kochi Metro Rail initiative in their paper, “Transgenders in the mainstream: Welfare schemes in Kerala -Kochi Metro Rail Project, education programme, health clinics, and old-age pension.” The authors conducted a critical exploration into the efficacy and reach of the welfare schemes for transgender persons in Kerala over the past decade. Though the authors look at the effects of these schemes,  including that of the KMRL, on transgender people, it does so from the perspective of policy-making and survey data rather than from personal experiences arrived upon through interviews, questionnaires and other methods that allow for articulation of lived experiences, which is what this study aims to do. 

In an article titled, “‘I am not a hijra’: Class, respectability, and the emergence of the ‘new’ transgender woman in India,” Liz Mount (2020) explores the intricacies of transgender women’s incorporation into social hierarchies in India, and the juxtaposition and limitation of their gender identities to that of hijras in India. Mount conducted an ethnographic study in a metropolitan Indian city, Bangalore, over the course of 9 months, that involved trans women, NGO workers and activists, as well as textual analysis based on representation in media to uncover their own narration of the struggles and the opportunities they receive. It looks at the middle-class status occupied by these individuals and how their class location pushes forward their desire for an identity separate from that of hijras in India. Mount’s paper specifically highlights trans women’s desire for upward social and economic mobility through employment in the organised sector, driven by the hope of achieving similar social status as cisgender women who have been able to achieve the same. The paper also highlights how the media portrays news regarding trans women gaining employment and other opportunities as “optimistic firsts,” which suggest that they will pave the way for more progress (Mount, 2020). However, the author argues that this is seldom the case. 

Aneesh M. S. (2017) conducted a study on the social exclusion of physically disabled transgender people in Kerala with the aim of understanding the areas in which they face discrimination. By identifying 10 transgender individuals with disabilities across Kerala, the researcher conducted telephonic interviews. The results revealed that the primary areas of discrimination lie in health, education and professional/occupational spheres. The researcher employs a similar method of conducting interviews and reaching out to respondents as this study does, but differs in aim, and the target population is a different subset of the transgender community in Kerala. 

In 2019, Tanya Kumar and Meena Lekha , conducted a study titled “Employment of transgenders in the Indian workforce” which aimed at getting insight into the expectations, aspirations and hardships of those belonging to the transgender community in collaboration with the Chuwal Gram Vikas Trust. The study looks at how support from governmental institutions, policy makers and “knowledge transfers” can help better their lives (Kumar & Lekha, 2019). The authors compiled their findings to create a brochure with strategies for better inclusion into the workforce, skill upgradation centres, existing inclusive workspaces and resources for those seeking employment amidst other aspects. This study focused on the experiences of transgender people in Ahmedabad. While Kumar and Lekha’s  study does look into certain firms that have inclusive policies for those belonging to the trans community, it is also different from this study which focuses purely on a public sector initiative and on a limited number of transgender persons as respondents as this one does. 

The job opportunities offered to transgender individuals by KMRL are of high significance due to the alarming levels of discrimination and oppression faced by the community. This was underpinned by the results of the 2014 state-wide survey of transgender persons measuring various aspects of capabilities, services, opportunities and rights available to them. It revealed that only 11.6% of transgender individuals in Kerala had regular, stable employment and 54% of them had monthly incomes that amounted to less than Rs. 5,000 (Government of Kerala: Social Justice Department, 2015). However, the most alarming statistic was that all the respondents had been denied a job due to their gender identity and expression. Other concerning results included dropping out of high school, high levels of social stigmatisation and familial ostracism, mistreatment, violence and/or sexual harassment of transgender individuals at the hands of partners and police. These factors compound to make vulnerable and threaten an already marginalised community of individuals and hasadverse effects on various aspects of their lives, such as social mobility and occupational aspirations.

Work Experiences and Occupational Aspirations

An important aspect of Mount’s paper focuses on the interaction of the discourses of employment, empowerment and respectability. Mount points out that in post-independent India, the middle-class, educated Indian cisgender woman was encouraged to join the workforce in order to push forward the development of both the nation and their empowerment, and having the choice to participate in some form of paid employment, then, became associated with class and respectability (Mount, 2020). Ganguly-Scrase and Scrase (2008) write that espousing “a desire for (cisgender) women to be publicly visible and have relative freedom to pursue careers” is a notable marker of middle-class identity (Ganguly-Scrase and Scrase, 2008, p. 82). When a transgender woman desires formal office employment, Mount asserts that it encompasses desires for both upward mobility and to “fulfill middle-class standards of womanhood,” wherein “womanhood” refers to the experience of being a cisgender woman  (Mount, 2020, p. 626). However, when it comes to employment, employability and the types of jobs made available to cisgender women and gender-nonconforming people in India, specifically transgender women, there is a “mandate of respectability” that is expected to underline their actions and nature of participation in the workforce, which in turn could cause or prevent  stigmatisation and ostracisation (Mount, 2020, p. 626). Transgender people and hijras in India are often said to work in “undesirable forms of employment,” such as sex work and soliciting money, because of the highly stigmatised nature of these jobs, clearly not passing the “mandate of respectability” referred to by Mount (2020, p. 636). Further, the notion of respectability affects the individual’s notion of their own dignity, as respondents of Mount’s study echoed. 

Occupational aspirations (sometimes referred to as occupational interests or professional goals) are usually understood as an individual’s set of preferences and desires regarding their future occupational roles and activities (Lent et al., 2013).  Researcher Caroline Hart, in her paper “How do aspirations matter?,” says that aspirations are “future-oriented, driven by conscious and unconscious motivations and they are indicative of an individual or group’s commitments towards a particular trajectory or end point” and that these aspirations are multifaceted, varying in terms of time periods, evolving over the course of one’s life (Hart, 2016, p. 326). She argues that for “full human development,” aspirations need to be viewed multidimensionally in conjunction with the myriad combinations of influences that precede and shape aspirations and their relationship to capabilities and functioning (Hart, 2016).  As Arjun Appadurai says, “Aspirations are never simply individual. They are always formed in interaction and in the thick of life” (as quoted in Hart, 2016, p. 325). Studying occupational aspirations for marginalised communities in the context of their inclusion into public sector employment opportunities (such as with the KMRL) and in the backdrop of the transgender policy of the State of Kerala allows for a more holistic and multidimensional understanding of the same.  All the transgender people interviewed in this study, all of them trans women, come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and their individual experiences are largely defined by the interplay of various intersectional factors including, but not limited to, gender identity, degrees of social inclusion, economic opportunities and status, inclusion within public sector schemes, and aspirations of co-workers and peers. It is in this context that policies that aim to empower marginalised communities through employment opportunities need to understand the dimensions of the identity of those belonging to these groups and the interaction of differences in gender, class, caste, religion and regions.  Appadurai (2004) also speaks of the capacity to aspire, which he argues is “not evenly distributed in any society.” He goes on to describe it as “a sort of meta capacity,” where those who are socioeconomically better off have a better-developed capacity to aspire (Appadurai, 2004). 

In addition to this conception of aspirations, Caroline Hart notes that in their numerous dimensions, aspirations can differ along the lines of whether they are known and expressed or latent and unarticulated or evolving. She writes that aspirations may be constrained or set in accordance with what the individual believes they are capable of doing, or conversely, they might be set ambitiously so that the individual can strive for better ways of realising it (Hart, 2016). Her article also points out that being able to “anticipate the future” while also being capable of doing the things one dreams of doing is rooted in oppressive and unequal societal power relations (Hart, 2016). In this case, the degree of social mobility that is perceived and experienced is highly influential as well. When looking at the inclusion of transgender people into the corporate and state workforce, Emmanuel David, in his article about trans visibility and capitalism in private enterprises, highlights the modern phenomena of “trans production,” understood as the counterpart of trans consumption, wherein there is an emergence of “patterned location of trans-specific labour power and all-trans groups of workers in the chains of material and cultural production” (David, 2017, p. 28). David’s critique of trans production within these employment schemes becomes especially relevant when exploring how trans occupational aspirations are shaped and influenced by dire economic circumstances and oppressive social structures. His study explores trans economic empowerment strategies which largely make use of independent contractors, global shifts in restructuring of work and trans class aspirations to confront issues of trans underemployment. He critiques these as they reinforce the perilous working conditions and economic insecurities of the community.

Research Question and Objectives of the Study

Having understood the KMRL and Kudumbashree initiative for trans-inclusion in the workforce, Kerala’s Transgender Policy, the transgender identity in India and the concept of occupational aspirations, this exploratory study aims to answer the following research question: what are the occupational aspirations of transgender individuals who are employed by the Kudumbashree FMC in the various departments of the Kochi Metro Rail Limited, Kerala? The study, being qualitative in nature, makes use of interviews as its main research method and attempts to fulfil the objectives of the study by doing a case-by-case analysis. The sample population being focused on is transgender persons who have taken up jobs in the Kochi metro since its inception in 2017 or have been hired in the following years, and continue to be employed by the KMRL. 

The objectives of the study are as follows: 

(a) to understand the nature of the individuals’ occupational experiences and aspirations; 

(b) to identify the various factors, if any, that have affected or changed, by promoting or inhibiting these aspirations; 

(c) to examine the effects of the employment of transgender individuals within the social inclusion policy of public sector initiatives such as the KMRL (in the backdrop of Kerala’s State Transgender Policy) on the changes or growth in their aspirations;

(d) to explore the working conditions and experiences of workers employed in the KMRL-Kudumbashree initiative.

Through the employment of the interview method the author aims to gain insight into the lived realities of these individuals and understand the factors affecting their professional aspirations from the perspective of the resultant articulated narratives. 

Further, the themes derived are understood in conjunction with findings of existing literature ranging from newspaper reports, journal articles and studies conducted. The paper also aims to explore the nature in which the capacity to aspire (in terms of one’s professional goals) is influenced by the institutions and policies that seek to include people from marginalised communities (without considering the multifaceted nature of their identity). It looks into future scope for similar studies and also the manner in which policies can be implemented by better understanding the social costs that accompany an individual’s identity, especially when they belong to a historically oppressed community.


The question of occupational experiences within this specific case becomes a pertinent perspective to investigate not only due to the high levels of media traction that this project gained as one of the first public sector initiatives to include such a policy, but also to understand the impact of such an initiative on the lives and aspirations of the individuals it concerns. In the pursuit of creating opportunities and providing for social inclusion, personal and professional goals and aspirations of those belonging to minority communities are often overlooked and, in some cases, minimised due to the aforementioned issues of intersectional marginalisation and unidimensional considerations of their lives.

This, when coupled with the various growing trans economic empowerment policies that are often impeccable on paper but not effectively implemented, deeply impacts trans people’s class aspirations and restructuring of work opportunities. Amidst the concerns of representation and inclusion, opportunities and overcoming societal barriers, individual aspirations and their goals for a better life (which are intrinsically tied to improving their economic and occupational status) take a back seat. With growing dialogue and acceptance surrounding gender identities and expression and understanding the cultural shift required to properly aid such individuals, it is reductive to understand their personalities, goals and aspirations as being one-dimensional or less important in comparison to those of traditionally accepted gender identities and sexual orientations.

As the statistics from Kerala’s state survey on transgender persons revealed, areas of education, employment, social inclusion and trust (or the lack thereof) in legal systems and the police have hindered these individuals’ personal development. The survey found that 89% had experienced some form of harassment at their worksites.

Thus, this study aims to understand the manner in which their gender identity interplays with their work experience and, consequently, social mobility and aspirations. The study recognises that there are a number of trans women who have left their jobs since being hired in 2017 by the KMRL, which is one of its limitations thus the factors that lead to their changing aspirations in conjunction with their changing circumstances did not have a chance to be identified. 


Due to the exploratory and qualitative nature of the study, interviews are employed as the research method to obtain the required primary data. The sample consists of a niche and smaller population (relative to the transgender individuals’ cisgender male and female counterparts working at KMRL) which allows for a more in-depth, case-by-case approach, and an extensive understanding of the workers’ occupational aspirations and factors that interact with it. 

Methods/ Tools for Data Collection

In order to answer the research question and satisfy the objectives of the study, a comprehensive understanding of the respondents’ lived realities, socioeconomic background and the factors that influence their occupational aspirations and cognizance of the same is essential. To achieve the same, the researcher utilised the qualitative method of interviews. These were semi-structured, one-on-one, telephonic interviews conducted by the researcher in the respondents’ preferred language, Malayalam. 

The data collected from the interviews have been supplemented with secondary data obtained from relevant literature such as official documents regarding Kerala’s transgender policy and the Kudumbashree-led KMRL scheme, newspaper articles, journals, and the like. 

Due to the limitations posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant regulations, digital consent forms were distributed to the respondents, which contained all the necessary details of the study such as its aims and objectives, the nature of the questions that would be asked, and the researcher’s contact details. Furthermore, respondents were informed of the voluntary nature of their participation and the right to withdraw at any time. The form explicitly sought consent for recording interviews , while guaranteeing anonymity and addressing concerns surrounding the usage of personal data.

The semi-structured questions asked in the interviews were open-ended. They were framed and intended to broadly gather information regarding biographical information of the respondents, their role at KMRL, the nature of their work day and responsibilities carried out, previous jobs, their occupational aspirations over time (from adolescence to the present), factors affecting their professional and personal life that have influenced their career choices, and their journey in terms of their transgender identity.  

The results obtained from the interviews and its analysis allowed the researcher to form a strong central argument, identifying the relevant themes and sub-themes for the study. Each of the interviews conducted with all five respondents were highly detailed and comprehensive, successfully answering all the questions and were approximately 35 minutes in length on average. When supplemented with the gathered literature, the conclusions that were able to be drawn were more holistic and structured, meeting all the objectives of the study. 


The selection of the respondents was done through convenience sampling and snowball sampling methods. 

Since there are only 13 trans persons who continued working for the KMRL during the time period in which the study was conducted (2021 to 2022), the target population is small. Additionally, all the employees of the KMRL live within the city of Kochi, Kerala.

The selection of these methods was done on the basis of the small sample size and limited geographical regions covered in this study. Using this sampling method, the researcher wasable to contact one respondent from the target population, that is, transgender individuals employed by the KMRL, and consequently depended on chain referrals in order to contact all the respondents and complete the data collection process. 

The total sample size of this study is 5 transgender people, all of whom are trans women and  are currently employed by the Kochi Metro Rail Limited. The sample involves both trans women who have or are currently undergoing hormone therapy to make their gender transition and those who have not.  The respondents are between 39 and52 years of age. 

Procedure and Analysis

After the respondents werecontacted and briefed about the aim of the study, their consent was obtained. The participants were asked whether they would like to have their identity stated or to remain anonymous in the study. The interviews began with a description of the outline of the themes being explored followed by a set of open-ended questions. The audio-recording of the interview, conducted in Malayalam, was translated and transcribed and was subsequently coded according to the common themes, distinct details about factors influencing the respondents’ lives and as a result, their occupational aspirations, and any information that is relevant to the formation of the central argument. 

Referring to the recordings and the coding sheets, the data collected was summarised and divided thematically, broad common factors were identified across cases, and the narrative was built. The resultant organised information was analysed and utilised to build a central argument, answering the research question and its objectives.  

The secondary data, that is, the relevant literature, has been used to substantiate and contextualise the experiences of the respondents. This adds both a comprehensive theoretical background and an understanding of the intersectionalities that exist within the broader sociopolitical milieu, considering facets such as geographical location, gender and sexual identity, socioeconomic status and education. 

Limitations of the Method

The major limitations of this study lie in the sample population, number of respondents and the nature of the interviews. 

The procedure of conducting interviews through an audio call on the mobile phone was the most appropriate manner of collecting data given the constraints caused by COVID-19 regulations (limiting the ability to be physically present) and due to the fact that video calls required a large amount of mobile data for the respondents and a potential discomfort of being visible on camera.

 However, the limitation that arose due to the characteristics of the telephonic interview was that non-verbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions, were not visible to the researcher. These cues usually add depth to the participants’ responses and/or give the researcher vital feedback (that isn’t explicitly said) to gauge the progress of the interview, emotions and level of comfort of the respondents. 

The sample population considered for this study was defined by the scope of the research question (which focused on the experiences and occupational aspirations of the trans workers currently employed within the KMRL-Kudumbashree initiative). Thus, the study does not include the stories of these individuals who chose to or were forced out of their job in the metro due to a variety of reasons such as lack of accommodation, societal pressure and stigma, and the low wages preventing them from meeting their monthly expenses and more. Due to little to no accessibility and means to contact those workers who have left their jobs at KMRL, the perspective is limited to those who have managed to continue working at the Kochi Metro by overcoming the multiple barriers posed by the job in itself. The occupational aspirations of those who have left, the factors influencing the same and their experiences are not covered. 

The next limitation was that the study, which initially planned to include 6 interviews, was restricted to the small sample size of 5 respondents, given that the original number of employees stood at 23.  The sixth respondent had to withdraw their participation due to a family emergency. Though 5 respondents make up close to 40% of the sample population in question, the limitation lies in the fact that the pool of respondents has been reduced.

Summary of Interviews

This section of the study focuses on summarising the results of the interviews with the 5 respondents and analysing the same by drawing inferences and identifying recurring themes and exceptional experiences. This section also consists of a close inspection and comprehension of the common and/or unique factors that are listed after listening to the respondents’ stories, the manner in which these factors influence their job satisfaction at the KMRL, their priorities and needs at their respective stages of life and, consequently, their occupational aspirations. 

The 5 interviews that were conducted are summarised below. The respondents have been given aliases in order to protect their identity; all the other details obtained from the interviews remain unchanged and are written as they were expressed. 

No. Name of the RespondentAgeYears Active in KMRLRole in KMRLOriginally From
1.Ananya522017- PresentTicketingErnakulam, Kerala
2.Kumari422017- PresentTicketingErnakulam, Kerala
3.Thrisha392017- PresentHousekeepingErnakulam, Kerala
4.Manju402017- PresentHousekeepingErnakulam, Kerala 
5.Leena492017- PresentHousekeepingIdukki, Kerala

The 5 respondents were aged between 39 and 52 and have all been a part of the KMRL-Kudumbashree initiative since the first intake of Kudumbashree FMC employees for the KMRL project in 2017. Their roles at the various stations of the Kochi metro lie in the areas of ticketing, housekeeping and customer service. Of the 5, 4 of the respondents were born in and settled in Kochi before getting their job, whereas one of them shifted to Kochi after securing the job. The importance given to the location and the issues that come along with an urban area like Kochi will be discussed later on in this section. 

Familial Support and Financial Situation

One major aspect that was explored in all the interviews was the respondents’ relationship with their families and their resultant experiences with familial and societal support. 

In the case of Ananya (52), she reported having had little to no support from her family throughout her life and has hence had to work multiple jobs up until the opportunity at KMRL to provide for herself. Since she is in her early fifties at the moment and has managed to save up enough money to live independently, she believes that it has allowed her to make financial decisions for herself and has given her enough financial and personal security to make use of the scheme at KMRL. She lived in Saudi Arabia for 5years prior to joining the Kochi Metro, where she worked as a tailor, a passion-turned-profession that allowed her to support herself financially.  After returning, she found herself in a conflict with her family which was largely due to  her gender identity. She then bought a house in a different locality in Kochi and has since lived independently, leaning on other trans people and groups in and around the city for support and friendship.    

Thrisha (39) said that she too has not been given much support from her family in terms of her identity or finances. Her previous jobs were neither high paying nor secure (in terms of duration and long-term guarantees), which resulted in her being unable to save up enough money to provide for herself and her family. As she is continuing to live with her parents, her financial goals are driven by the need to fulfil the basic needs of the household. Thrisha’s family still refers to her by the name given to her at birth (not the name she identifies with), and she still presents in traditionally masculine ways whilst at home. 

Leena (49) too experienced little to no familial support and described instances of being shamed and having her gender identity disregarded throughout her childhood and adolescence. She also spoke of growing up as an outsider, questioning her own identity, feeling extremely isolated and being rejected by her own family. Due to the aforementioned situation with her family and the increasing societal ostracism she felt back at home, Leena left her family when she was 25 years of age and has never returned. She says that she never had anybody to help her understand what her dreams were, and the job roles she applied for were not chosen based on interest but on ensuring that she could earn money to finance her housing and food. 

For Manju (40), things were not too different either. Her father passed away when she was young, leaving her to look after her ailing mother. Her brothers and sisters have been unsupportive of her gender identity and they have not had an amicable relationship. After her mother passed away in 2010, Manju was to inherit their house, which she describes as very small to begin with, but due to feuds in her family and the fact that she had not received her transgender identity card as yet, she decided to move out of her home and live with roommates, shifting between houses ever since. She has taken up multiple professions to provide for herself and has paid little attention to her dreams and hopes.  

In contradiction to the  others interviewed for the study, Kumari (42) has received high levels of support from her family and was financially stable before her intake into the position at KMRL. Kumari said that the support she received was not just limited to her immediate family, and her relatives from both her paternal and maternal sides were extremely supportive. Her father helped her meet the expenses of her transitioning treatments.   

The respondents each had varying levels of support from and relationships with their families, which, to an extent, determined their financial stability and their financial goals in the present. It is important to note that their financial status throughout their childhood was reported to be low; they faced considerable hardships while trying to make ends meet. It also shaped the way in which they interacted with their own identity and security. Their current financial status and financial goals are highly interlinked with their ties with their families and this, in turn, is a huge determinant of their occupational aspirations. 

Previous Employment Experiences

Another crucial and shared aspect of the stories shared by all the respondents is that of having worked multiple jobs previously, often simultaneously. They also described periods of isolation due to the lack of a community, emotional support and social and professional spaces that were gender-affirming and inclusive. 

Other than Ananya, who worked as a tailor for over 20 years both in her hometown and when she shifted temporarily to Saudi Arabia, Kumari, Thrisha, Manju and Leena all worked multiple jobs before joining the Kudumbashree FMC workforce for the KMRL project. Most of these roles were given to them on the basis of their level of education and skill, and ranged from working in a call centre to being a salesperson, working in labs and nursing homes. Their sole motivation was to earn enough money to support themselves and, in the cases of a few respondents, their families as well. The lack of job security was a major factor in most of these roles, and the constant shifting of roles due to dissatisfaction with their personal and professional lives led to most of the respondents facing periods of unemployment and instability. These experiences were also isolating due to the lack of a community and interactions with others who were influenced by prejudiced and stigmatised perspectives of the trans community.  During these periods, the only criterion for occupations they aspired for was one where they would be able to earn enough to make ends meet and where their employers allowed them to work “despite their gender identity.” In most of these workplaces, the respondents (who are all trans women) either presented in conventionally masculine clothing, contributing to feelings of gender dysphoria, or felt like they were hired despite their gender.

Work Experience at the Kochi Metro

As mentioned before, all five respondents began working in the Kochi Metro in 2017; they were all a part of the first intake of women for the Kudumbashree FMC. The selection process consisted of a round of interviews and an assessment of previous educational qualifications amongst other things. Most of the respondents found out about the KMRL-Kudumbashree initiative through WhatsApp forwards, word-of-mouth and newspaper announcements about the same.  Following their selection, they were given a few weeks of training at Rajagiri College in Kochi to prepare them for their roles. As a trans person, to be able to apply for this job, each respondent needed to have a transgender identity card issued by the government.

When asked to narrate their experiences working at the Kochi Metro, all five respondents spoke about two characteristics of their jobs that stood out to them and were of utmost importance. The first is the gender-affirming and inclusive nature of the initiative. All five  respondents have had experiences of being ostracised and discriminated against in their previous workplaces due to their gender identity and expression. More importantly, four out of      five respondents said that they had been discriminated against by their own families. Their experiences with social exclusion had detrimental effects on their mental health, led to increased gender dysmorphia and also led to them lowering their standards of safety, stability and security in order to get a job. In her interview, Ananya recounted that in Kochi, she knew of a group of trans women who had been imprisoned and publicly shamed for resorting to sex work to meet their financial needs. She said that when they were asked why they chose to do the same, they responded by saying that if they were given the opportunity to do other forms of work, they would not be forced to engage in sex work. Leena, Manju, Kumari, Ananya and Thrisha all maintain that they would not want to forego the opportunity to be hired in a programme such as the KMRL-Kudumbashree initiative wherein, for the first time in their lives, their gender identity is publicly affirmed and visible without shame. They are chosen to work in this position not in spite of their gender or by disregarding it, but rather, because of it. 

The second crucial factor is the prestige and respect associated with working in a widely recognised, public sector initiative. The work comes with the benefits that most jobs within the formal sector possess, including, but not limited to, security and stability.  Kumari said that she felt a great sense of pride in having a job that allowed her to “stand on her own two feet,” as she believes that her status is largely dictated by a steady job and the capability of earning a monthly wage. Leena says that she does not want to leave this job and look elsewhere due to the guarantee of the two factors discussed above. 

However, when it comes to the drawbacks of this initiative and the way it affects the occupational aspirations of the respondents, factors such as wages, the urban setting of Kochi and resultant problems of rent and commute, and issues within KMRL and the Kudumbashree FMC itself are brought to the forefront. 

The major drawback that poses a challenge to all five  respondents is that the salary  is not enough to sustain their needs. All of them  said that the salary they were receiving, which ranges from rupees 9,000 to 15,000 per month, was not enough for them to comfortably improve their financial status and often meet their monthly expenses. Thrisha, specifically, expressed high levels of dissatisfaction with working at KMRL primarily due to her low income. Not dissimilar to the other respondents, Thrisha’s financial situation is dire, and since she must provide for her parents, she did report that her dissatisfaction with the wage level has pushed her to consider looking for another job in the future. The high levels of dissatisfaction are also compounded by the inability to pay for the treatment for her transition in the form of hormone pills, which she says often takes a backseat after household expenses are met.  However, due to the precariousness of job-related opportunities and security for her (from past experiences) and due to the stability and safety factors that this job assures her, she is unwilling to shift jobs at the moment and has not considered it any further. Another vital aspect that was brought up by Ananya was the importance of the women’s financial stability before they joined the job. This was particuallry important for those who did not reside in Kochi and would, therefore, need accommodation when moving to the city. This is due to the fact that trans individuals face high levels of discrimination and stigmatisation in different spheres, and the lens through which society regards them has often rendered them homeless and exploited at the hands of tenants, landlords and brokers. Ananya reported that of the 23 trans women who had initially joined the workforce at the Kochi Metro, many had to leave their positions due to the lack of accessibility to cheap, safe and clean housing for trans women in Kochi and they not being able to finance their other personal and familial needs. A couple of instances of harassment and discrimination during the initial few months of their employment at the hands of the KMRL staff, managing directors and some of the passengers was described by Manju and were further supported by newspaper reports claiming the same (M.K., 2017; Jayarajan, 2019. However, she says that with time this has lessened, and now there exists a good camaraderie among all the employees. Other respondents maintain that there exists an air of discomfort when communicating with some of the managing staff and other KMRL employees. They chalk this down to the fact that they have not been sensitised or educated about the realities of the trans workers’ identity and lived realities.  One respondent also mentioned that they often felt like they were “put on display” when important guests were brought to view the functioning of the Kochi Metro, resulting in them feeling like their inclusion could potentially be tokenistic. 

These problems were compounded by the fact that their salaries were not adequate for them to meet their monthly rental payments while also managing other expenses such as food, water, electricity and medical needs (including, but not limited to, hormone therapy). In this manner, the location of their work at KMRL and the distance of the same from their homes in Kochi was a determinant of how long they would be able to continue their job at the metro and how they would be able to allocate their expenses, which in turn influences their goals and aspirations. It also provided a glimpse into the challenges faced by the trans women employed under this scheme at the KMRL as it revealed the aspects of their transition to this job that was unaccounted for within the policies and schemes framed for the purpose of their employment. When these factors threaten their safety, security and their identity, it is likely to impede their aspirations and shift the focus to fulfilling more basic needs (which are usually guaranteed for those who are cisgender and have better financial stability).

Though they have complained to the management and have had multiple discussions regarding the same, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of shifts they were working, resulting in insecurity of income for those months. They were only able to work between 18 and 24 shifts a month; each shift was 8 hours long, and they had a maximum of one shift a day. This implies that there were days of the month when they do not work at all and cannot earn for those days. 

Manju also reported that their salary does not reach them directly from the KMRL since it goes through the Kudumbashree FMC first. She suspects that this is the reason that their salaries are often lower than they expect. Interestingly, it was found that their meagre salary was not a strong factor in the determination of their desire to change their occupation, that is, their aspirations were tied to other features of their daily lives and experience at KMRL. 

Occupational Aspirations and Mobility within the KMRL – Kudumbashree Initiative

When asked about their ambitions and aspirations during their childhood and early adulthood, the respondents provided a variety of responses. Thrisha said that she had no particular dreams as a child but was keen on becoming a teacher if she could have the opportunity to. In Leena’s interview, she said that throughout her childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, due to the discrimination and exclusion she faced in her neighbourhood and from her family, she was depressed and often had suicidal thoughts. She said that there was nobody in her life to provide her guidance with respect to the kinds of dreams she could dream or aspire to have. However, like Thrisha, she too expressed her desire during her teenage years to become a teacher.  Ananya was always inclined towards fashion and began a tailoring job at a young age to help her provide for herself and to meet expenses. She continued her job as a tailor until she joined the Kudumbashree FMC. She continues to pursue tailoring on the side as a way to earn extra money and to sustain her passion. Kumari expressed her desire to become a doctor during her childhood. However, this passion quickly changed as she did not get a chance to complete medical school and began to work multiple jobs in her early adulthood wherein she experienced high levels of discrimination and solitude. Manju expressed her passion for dance which began in middle school. She said that her dance classes became a safe haven for her as her teachers treated her just like all the other students and allowed her to explore various types of dance. She expressed her desire to continue learning dance, but only in the capacity of a hobby. She is waiting for a few of her friends to return to Kochi to begin dance practice again. 

An important aspect of the nature of the trans workers’ jobs at the KMRL is that it is based on the Kudumbashree FMC considering KMRL as a contractor for providing their services, which is dependent upon the contract being renewed every three to five years. While this is not a major risk factor, a consequence of the same is that the scope for job mobility within the Kudumbashree FMC and the Kochi Metro does not exist. Since they cannot aspire for higher positions within their place of work, it limits their capacity to expand their working potential and, as a result, their financial status as well.

All 5 of the respondents expressed no concrete plan to move out of their current jobs at KMRL despite dissatisfaction with regards to the low wages, difficulties with accommodation and commute in a city such as Kochi, and the challenges that come along with their trans identity. Though it must be noted that one of the respondents had considered leaving but decided not to since the cost of such a move would be high for her. 

The small community of transgender women within the Kochi metro, which was closely supported by other cisgender women who are part of the metro service, has been a motivating factor in the tran workers continuing the job and believing that they can carry forward their work efficaciously. The most important takeaway from the interviews is that due to the aforementioned challenges faced by the trans community at large, there is a sense of responsibility and duty towards the community that was expressed. Both Kumari and Ananya mentioned in their interviews that they felt they did not want to look beyond this job at the moment due to the fact that it was a huge opportunity for them personally and for the trans community at large, and given that they resided in Kochi (and did not face the issue of relocation like the others did). Furthermore, Thrisha mentioned that even if she was unsatisfied with the job it was the “best option” she had at the moment. It was seen that while their occupational aspirations have transformed considerably through the years (through their teenage years and early adulthood until the present), it has not changed or moved beyond the KMRL in recent years. 


The results of the interviews revealed that all five respondents have expressed no wish to shift from their current job at the KMRL. Additionally, their occupational aspirations and passions were described with  limited belief in their capability and capacity of achieving them. However, two out of the five respondents have expressed their desire to continue working on their passions on the side – something they don’t have the opportunity to monetise just yet, as in the case of Manju, or something that allows them to do what they are passionate about while earning on the side, as in the case of Ananya. The lack of opportunity to grow within the positions allotted to them could be another factor that does not allow for them to aspire for more within their current jobs as well. Being part of the Kudumbashree FMC and not directly employed by the KMRL, and moreover, being given positions on the basis of their education for particular roles in this project, KMRL does not promote much scope for shifting. Further, this is on the basis of KMRL and Kudumbashree renewing their contracts every few years. This perceived immobility within their current jobs has played a major role in determining the nature of their aspirations. The same view was put forward by Caroline Hart, who talks about how aspirations may be limited by or decided upon based on what an individual believes they are capable of, which interacts with their being able to “anticipate the future” (Hart, 2016). In this case, the anticipation of any future capability to move upwards within their current workplace does not exist. 

Further, however, this must be viewed in conjunction with Emmanuel David’s critique on “trans production,” to make better sense of how the conditions of the poor within the trans community push them to accept working conditions that limit mobility within the job, that come with high levels of job insecurity and restructure trans people’s class aspirations. David writes that with the employment of trans-inclusive workforces, the tokenism (which was described by one of the respondents) is merely a part of something larger at play: “the institutionalisation of transgender as a category” wherein organisations reconfigure their policies in order to fit in with broader cultural movements (David, 2017, p. 34). He goes on to describe how, by mobilising trans labour power, the labour market within the neoliberal system is able to now create new forms of value drawn from the workers’ marginalised identity. This further exacerbates their condition while appearing to uplift them socially and economically as evidenced by the fact that respondents continue to work at KMRL despite the limitations of their job, including major factors such as insufficient income, lack of upward mobility within the organisation and safety during commute. Looking at Liz Mount’s argument on trans women’s employment also highlights the importance of dignity and respectability of a particular occupation within society, especially for those whose gender identity and class position have previously affected their employability and consequently their scope for social and economic mobility. However, unlike in Mount’s paper, the need for upward mobility by trans women must not be viewed merely as a mechanism to achieve the position that the postcolonial, cisgender Indian woman gains through employment. This is made especially clear when taking into consideration the transgender community’s continued struggle for legal recognition and protections over the past decade, alongside the dearth of employment opportunities and other aspects of their identity.  One such salient aspect is that of their class position, as expressed in their interviews. Most of them describe themselves as being born into families of low economic status and have struggled to improve their financial position either individually or with their families over the course of their lives. While some respondents are able to manage monthly expenses with the help of their families, others struggle due to lack of familial support and any social capital. The sociopolitical and historical contexts of the evolving nature of the trans identity in India pushes trans women to grab any opportunity that allows them a certain status and awards them the dignity that they were deprived of thus far, as expressed by many of the respondents. In this manner, they recognise the differences of their struggle and the status given to certain occupations within the largely heteropatriarchal capitalist society, which in turn could be a larger motivator to continue working at KMRL while feeling like they are representatives of their community, with the aim of drawing attention to not only their strife thus far, but also their capabilities.  

Arjun Appadurai’s ideas on the “capacity to aspire” explains that the capacity to aspire is often reserved for the rich, and since aspirations are formed in the “thick of life” and rarely ever in silos, these are ways in which one’s identity and class influence their ability to aspire. When compounded by the intersectional nature of the lives of the poor, in this case, the trans workers who struggle to make ends meet, their goals are limited to their financial needs and living expenses and to sustain a job that affirms and protects their gender identity. The most prominent take away from the respondents’ narration of their experiences and aspirations (or lack thereof) is that there exists no other opportunity, in both the public and private sphere, that provides them with equal or greater economic gains without an even more expensive social cost. 

The Kerala state’s TG survey revealed the perilous state of transgender individuals’ safety and employment opportunities: only 11.6% of trans individuals had stable employment, 54% of them had monthly incomes of less than Rs. 5,000, and 100% of them had been previously denied jobs solely on the basis of their gender identity and expression (Government of Kerala: Social Justice Department, 2015). These factors interact with the individual ability to aspire. The need for more careful policy-framing and implementation, one that is driven by those who belong to the marginalised community it is aimed to benefit, is of utmost importance. This is further seen especially in the context of KMRL wherein the public and private sectors come together to provide this opportunity for transgender individuals through an independent contractor while not taking into consideration certain prerequisites and exceptional circumstances of those in the community to make the most of the opportunities as exemplified by the case of those currently employed in KMRL. Further, even when the state and private organisations share the common goal of the empowerment of transgender people and have well-intentioned policies and schemes planned for the same, such as in the case of the KMRL-Kudumbashree initiative, David argues that the mechanisms it uses ultimately bolsters perilous ​working conditions and economic insecurities in ways that “might also unwittingly contribute to economic imperialism” (David, 2017, p. 31). While these jobs do create opportunities for stable employment, dignity and social and economic mobility, the question of who benefits from trans visibility and their incorporation into corporate schemes and the economy must be posed while also considering the cost of the same on those it aims to uplift. For this reason, policies that have been pushed forward by civil society movements, such as the movement for the Right to Information in India (see Mander & Joshi, 1999) and the Indian Against Corruption Movement of 2011 which led to the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party and the Jan Lokpal Bill or the Citizen’s Ombudsman Bill (see Sharma, 2014), must be considered in order to make the state’s transgender policy more representative and better tailored to cater to the needs of the community.  Therefore, a vital question that must be addressed when policies and schemes are drawn up to empower a particular marginalised community is the level of involvement of those from the targeted community in its formulation and more importantly, in its implementation and continued reviews (or lack thereof). That is, they must take into account the criticisms and protests raised against the schemes and policies, and revise them in order to better represent the communities in question and cater to their needs.


This study aimed to understand the occupational aspirations of the transgender workers of the KMRL-Kudumbashree intiative. Its objectives included understanding the nature of these aspirations, factors that influence the same and the implications of the involvement in a social inclusion initiative such as in the case of the Kochi Metro. Additionally, it aimed to understand the lived realities and work experiences of the workers. Employing semi-structured, one-on-one telephone interviews as the method of research, the study summarised and analysed the responses from five trans people currently working in the Kochi Metro. The results concluded that none of the five respondents were looking to shift their jobs due to the stability and security provided by their various roles in KMRL. This was largely influenced by the gender-affirming nature of the initiative – a priority for trans women. Only two out of five respondents currently have aspirations to pursue a passion or job on the side, and only 1 of them is actively working towards the same. The drawbacks of the respondents’ jobs at the Kochi Metro primarily include meagre salaries that make it difficult for them to manage their finances and the lack of mobility within their roles and positions as part of the Kudumbashree FMC. It was found that the second factor led to them not being able to aspire to grow within their current profession and area of work as well. However, these two factors are overlooked due to the aforementioned security and safety provided by an initiative of this nature, especially since it lies within the formal sector. A major limitation of this study was that the sample population consisted only of those trans women who continue to work with the KMRL and not those who have already left due to a host of reasons. Furthermore, a limited number of respondents (5 out of the 13 who continue to be employed in the Kochi Metro) and the interviews being conducted over the telephone were other limitations.  

Viewing both social inclusion schemes and policies and the identity of a community that is a minority in India, through a unidimensional lens, is detrimental at an individual and societal level. It is this surface-level understanding that reduces minority communities to mere statistics and homogenous needs, aspirations and problems. It also does not take into account the intersectionalities that persist in a diverse country such as India which in turn shape the lived experiences of each individual. When public sector initiatives for social inclusion are drafted hand-in-hand with private enterprises, the schemes and policies designed do not reflect factors such as welfare, stigmatisation, and more importantly, do not provide the support required for the benefits and opportunities of this scheme to be enjoyed by those it is meant to cater to. Other times, the policy in itself is inherently lacking because it does the bare minimum. In the case of a minority community such as for transgenders in India, the bare minimum is not enough to get by.  It is crucial that legal and economic measures, often those that involve both public and private institutions such as the KMRL-Kudumbashree initiative, are taken to safeguard rights of minority communities and provide them with opportunities for progress. When institutions take steps towards these measures, it is rightfully met with praise and appreciation and almost immediately made into a model for others to follow. However, the depth of these initiatives, their effective implementation and the consideration for the lived realities of those for whom the scheme is designed will be the true sign of progress. 

Finally, the study displayed that a multitude of factors affect the capacity to aspire and the nature of occupational aspirations of marginalised communities, in this case, transgender individuals. Thus, studies that look at the ability to move beyond one’s current financial and social status through various occupations and professions, especially through an intersectional lens, will provide for a more holistic picture of the existing social and economic milieu vis-a-vis the trans community. 


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