“I want to become a mother when I grow up” – replied Ganesh (Gauri Sawant as a child)
Gauri Sawant became the talk of the country in 2001 when she adopted a daughter of a sex worker who succumbed to AIDS. Gauri was the first transgender to have made her way into motherhood, breaking the orthodox traditions and stereotypes prevalent in the country. She challenged the norm that parenting is only meant for married couples or male/female genders.
She went out of her way to adopt a sex worker’s daughter and was also successful in saving the child from trafficking. She was the first transgender to file a petition in the Supreme Court for adoption rights of transgenders and was also a petitioner in the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) case in which the Supreme Court recognised ‘transgender’ as the third gender.
Today, Gauri is a proud mother of a daughter apart from being a social activist. On the occasion of Mother’s Day, Gauri shares glimpses of her life journey, motherhood and parenting experience with our correspondent Odeal D’Souza.
Born as Ganesh Suresh Sawant in Pune, Gauri left her abode for the City of Dreams – Mumbai – while she was only a teen. After much hard work and determination, Gauri founded the Sakhi Char Chowghi Trust in 2000. The NGO promotes safe sex and also provides counseling to transgenders.
Gauri was born in Pune to a police officer and his homemaker wife. During her growing years, her feminine disposition made her realise that she was not like others. “It is always the society that clichés us as being different. In my growing years, I did not feel like a Hijra or like a girl, back then I really did not even understand what a Hijra meant. But the society christened me as ‘Hijra’. I would always play with girls, and feel more comfortable with them and never really played with boys. I would wear my grandmother’s sarees and roll up my T-shirt like a blouse. I would get yelled many times for this, but I really never changed,” Gauri explains.
She recalls a conversation at a wedding with an acquaintance, when she was a teen. Someone had asked, “Ganesh what do you want to become when you grow up”? “I want to become a mother when I grow up”; was Ganesh’s innocent reply. “Everyone told me, I cannot be a mother, and insisted me to follow my father’s footsteps and become a police officer, but I was always attracted to motherhood,” says Gauri.
Gauri lost her mother when she was just seven years old which left a huge void in her life. While because of her effeminate behavior, her father could never accept her. Gauri left her home and city (Pune) when she was seventeen years old. With 60 rupees in her pocket, she boarded a train to Dadar which passed through Pune. A friend, who was a gay-turned-trans sex worker, provided Gauri shelter for three days. “My friend fed and cared for me, and later, introduced me to Humsafar Trust (one of the oldest LGBTQ organizations in India). By the grace of God, I never had to beg” recalls Gauri.
Gauri then chose to transform into a Hijra or eunuch which is recognised officially as the third gender currently. “I knew the reality, I did not want to become a woman – people would not accept me and my body as that of a woman even if I got the painful procedure done,” she says.
Gauri’s motherhood journey
Eventually, Gauri’s main task became spreading awareness about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and also to encourage the sex workers to get themselves medically examined. One of the individuals whom Gauri encountered in the process was none other than Gayatri’s biological-mother, a sex worker.
Gayatri lost her mother when she was five years old. After Gayatri’s mother passed away, the secret conspiracies of Gayatri being sold for flesh trade in Sonagachi caught Gauri’s notice. Soon after, Gauri waged a war and fought relentlessly against it. “I was shocked and adamant that this must not happen. While fighting against it, I hardly realised I was on my way to motherhood. However, I knew that the girl needed due protection, love and care,” confides Gauri.
The transition to motherhood was a beautiful process and it happened gradually. Gauri would feed Gayatri, bathe her, send her to school, take care of her studies – and over the years, they developed a deep bond with each other. Gauri tried to adopt Gayatri formally but prevalent laws in the country did not permit a member of the LGBT community to take custody of a child.
‘Aai’ which is the Marathi word for ‘mother’ Gauri says, “I haven’t done anything for her, she’s given me everything – the title of “mother” which is one of the truest manifestations of womanhood in my journey from boy to girl. On this Mother’s Day, I would like to tell everyone that parenting need not be gender specific. Further, motherhood is a feeling. I am very happy to live this experience.”
Gauri – The Urge to Fly is a biography on the life and account of Gauri Sawant. Penned by author Rhythm Wagholikar, it encompasses all the odds, struggles and turbulence she has undergone in order to reach from the traffic signal to the stage.
“There’s a fine line between being a friend and parent” – interview with Neerja Birla, chairperson of the Aditya Birla Education Trust