“Why are you begging on the street ? Why can’t you do a proper job ? ”
This question is often asked at Hijras of India. The answer is always this.
“Who will give me a job? Who will give people like us jobs ?
Hijras are transgender women of India. They are shunned by society at large. Usually they are disowned by families and are forced to live in ghettos under a leader (Guru). They earn money by begging on the streets and trains. They also get some money by singing and dancing during certain ceremonies and many end up in sex work.
“When we walk on the streets, people call us names. They warn children to stay away. My guru would say, ‘Look, we are hijras. People laugh at us, but you must never show your pain.’”
Like most places in the world, Transgender community are severely discriminated and marginalised in India too. In such a background it was pleasing to hear about a transgender band, thanks to a big Bollywood cinema production house. It was Yashraj films who decided to do something about this gender discrimination.
According to Y-Films, over 200 members from the transgender community were auditioned before the final line-up was determined. At times, even boys dressed up in saris pretending to be transgender would show up for auditions. “We didn’t know whether to advertise the auditions on television or radio or print, because we didn’t know how savvy they were. So, we created a team that went to traffic signals and on local trains across various pockets of Mumbai.
Once the six members were selected, the crew worked on their singing and dancing abilities. “Though they are naturally talented, because of their troubled childhood, they haven’t had the luxury of learning music. Even the opportunity of going to school was not presented to them,” adds Tandon. Conceptualised over nine months, the band had to suffer several hardships including being turned down by rehearsal venues or being shooed away from locations, because of their identity and the perceptions attached to them. “Why is it that a transgender not respected in the same way that a man or a woman is?” questions Jagtap. It’s a dilemma she explores through her music as well.
Six Pack Band’s first single — Hum Hain Happy— a cover of Pharrell Williams’s popular number Happy (2013), clocked over 1.4 million views on YouTube with in few days of its release. While there have been several renditions of the song, this one is special, being the first song of India’s first ever transgender band. Their second song, Sab Rab de Bande had 3 million viewers.
Today, Jagtap’s life has more in common with Harry Styles’ than most wedding singers, caught up as she is in recording, press conferences, photo and video shoots and interviews. The most important change, though, has come in how she is treated by those who once shunned her. “After years of silence, my brother invited me home. Now neighbours tell our family, ‘Look your son is on TV and sings so well.’ The people who used to harass us on the street say, ‘That’s the star from 6 Pack Band.’”
Jagtap has a message for families like hers. “There will always be a child born in a house somewhere that is a hijra. But they deserve to live, too. Don’t hide them away. Don’t keep them in a cage. And if you can’t accept them, let them live with people who understand them. Set them free. Because of 6 Pack Band, I’ve proved to the world I can do something. Call me names if you want. I am proud to be called a hijra. I’m a singer in 6 Pack Band. Today, I am someone.
Hope soon all transgender people of the world will have a similar happy tale to tell.