India’s first LGBT service in Mumbai

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Mumbai is now witnessing a new leash to survival, this time among the LGBT community. The first cab service operated by the members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community has become a new wave as now it’s a transition from begging at traffic lights to driving a cab.

“When you see a transgender or a gay person driving a cab in Mumbai, the other transgenders who are begging on the streets will definitely want to be a part of this change,” said Ganesh Somwanshi, project director for Wings Rainbow, India’s first cab service to employ LGBT drivers.

Cab service, Wings Travel, along with Humsafar Trust, is a Mumbai-based NGO that promotes the rights to India’s gay community. The pilot phase of the service was launched and enrolled by Sanjeevani Chauhan, a member of the LGBT community along with four others.

The organisation hopes to expand the service to at least 1,500 taxis by the end of the year.

“There are so many of us who are in the sex trade or begging on the streets. Working as a cab driver will not only give us a job and security but also a different kind of respect and acceptance within the society,” said Chauhan, who has been working as a counselor for Humsafar for nearly three years.

The figures as per the government records show that there are over 2.5 million gays in India.

The LGBT community remains heavily marginalised and although India recognises this, the community is suffering from intolerance and lesser or no opportunities for social integration.

“We did our research and spoke to gays, lesbians and transgenders to find out if they were ready for a project like this. They had their apprehensions and weren’t sure if they would get enough customers, if people would take them seriously and what if customers refuse to pay for the ride,” said Ganesh Somwanshi.

Last year, the Supreme Court, passed a judgement that recognised the third gender, while granting them equal rights to education, jobs and driving licences.

However, India still functions under the British colonial-era that criminalises homosexuality as a punishable offence

“After the NALSA judgment, constitutionally LGBTs were given all the rights, but we had to figure out how to implement this on a grassroots level,” Pallav Patankar, director of programmes at Humsafar.

It will take nearly a year until the taxis hit the Mumbai roads but we can see the realities slowly changing on the ground for the LGBTs in India.