Padmini Prakash: India's first transgender news anchor

By Imran Qureshi
BBC Hindi, Bangalore

image copyrightLotus TV
image captionPadmini Prakash says she is "very happy" to be recognised

Padmini Prakash has become India's first transgender to anchor a daily television news show and she has been grabbing attention in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Since 15 August - India's Independence Day - Padmini appears every evening at 19:00 to present a news show on the Tamil-language Lotus TV based in the city of Coimbatore.

And she is thrilled with her new job - not only because she is on air at prime time, but also because it is making a world of difference to her and her community.

"I am so happy. The message has gone all over India and the internet," she says.

According to one estimate, India has about two million transgender people and most live on the fringes of society, often in poverty, ostracised because of their gender.

Most make a living by singing and dancing or by begging and prostitution.

It was only recently that the Supreme Court recognised transgender people as a third gender in a landmark ruling.

'Troubled life'

Padmini's life has not been very different from others in her community.

"I had a troubled childhood," she says.

Disowned by her family when she was 13, she left home and attempted suicide, but was saved by some people.

image copyrightAFP
image captionMany transgender people in India make a living by singing and dancing

"After leaving home, I travelled all over. I enrolled into an undergraduate programme in commerce through distance education, but I had financial problems so I dropped out after two years," she says.

But, she was not disillusioned. "I learnt Bharatnatyam [classical Indian dance form]. I took part in transgender beauty contests and won them. I then acted in a television serial."

Lotus TV says the idea of hiring a transgender anchor was proposed by programme executives Sangeeth Kumar and Saravana Ramakumar.

The two men were returning home after work a few months ago when they came across some transgender people being treated badly. They felt the negative social attitudes had to change and discussed it with their management.

"Our chairman GK Selva Kumar accepted our idea to give an opportunity to a transgender to be a news presenter," Mr Kumar said.

Padmini's name for the job was suggested by Rose, India's first transgender to host a talk show on TV. "I recommended her name to the network when they contacted me," says Rose. "Padmini is doing a very good job and she has been well received," she adds.

"We got in touch with Rose who introduced us to Padmini. She was well aware of news and we gave her two months of voice modulation training," said Mr Ramakumar.

He denies that appointing a transgender news anchor is "a stunt to increase the channel's TRP" - television rating points. "This is done only to give transgender people respect in society," he says.

'Nice performance'

The move has been welcomed by campaigners.

"Padmini's assignment carries a message about this neglected community. Since they are not socially acceptable, they cannot display their talent. Such is the situation today that some of them are in the sex trade or forced to beg on the streets," says Coimbatore-based activist Anjali Ajeeth.

Akkai Padmashali of Sangama, a group fighting for the rights of sexual minorities in the southern city of Bangalore says: "It's a good move. For the first time, there is an effort to bring transgenders into the mainstream. There are very few right now in mainstream professions."

The audiences too seem to approve of Padmini.

"Her performance is really nice. She not only looks like a woman but her voice modulation, her pronunciation and her over all presentation is very good," homoeopathic doctor U Sreekumar told the BBC.

"Honestly, I could not find any difference between her and any other woman anchor on other television channels,"' said housewife Vaijanthi.

Padmini says she is happy that she is finally being "recognised".

"People look at me with some respect now," she says.

"I am really so happy. More such opportunities should be given to other transgenders too. The social taboo should go," she adds.

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