The Kochi Metro, which is set to start operations in June, is expected to decongest the roads of Kerala’s busiest city and financial hub to a great extent. But beyond its role as a provider of mass public trasport, it has also emerged as the country’s first government agency to offer employment to transgenders.

The Kochi Metro Rail Limited – a special-purpose vehicle created by the state government for the implementation, operation and maintenance of the Metro – will offer contracts to 23 transgenders and 780 women from a prominent self-help group before it commences full operations. Some 77 women have already started working as cleaning staff and the remaining appointments will be finalised soon. The hired personnel will be deployed for housekeeping, ticketing, customer relations and gardening and at the coach-depot canteen.

The company has signed a three-year contract with Kudumbashree Mission, a self-help group supported by the state government, to ensure jobs for women and transgenders.

Selection process

Soon after signing the deal with the Kochi Metro in February, Kudumbashree Mission launched a recruitment drive to select 780 women. It accepted applications from members and their relatives in Ernakulam district.

“We expected a maximum of 10,000 applications but were surprised to receive 42,000,” said Dilraj KR, project manager of the Ernakulam District Kudumbashree Mission who is liaising with the Kochi Metro. “As many as 39,400 candidates attended a test held in 100 schools in Ernakulam in a single day,” he added. “This was followed by an interview.”

Explaining how the organisation then finalised the candidates, he said, “We gave preference to members of families whose land has been acquired for the Metro, widows, those who have to look after mentally-ill and cancer patients, and women who are subjected to assaults during the hiring process.”

The new recruits have been assigned jobs on the basis of their educational qualifications. Graduates have been given the responsibility of being team leaders while those who have completed Class 12 have been deployed as ticket counter operators and customer care executives. Those who have studied up till Class 8 will join the housekeeping and cleaning departments.

Of the 23 transgenders who have made the cut, six will work as ticket vendors and the rest as housekeeping staff.

Women recruits of Kochi Metro at a soft-skills training programme. (Credit: Kudumbashree Mission)

Raring to go

The women and transgender employees have already received training on honing their soft skills and dealing with workplace challenges. While the Kudumbashree Mission members attended a three-day session, a month-long training programme was organised for the transgender group at the Rajagiri School of Social Sciences in Ernakulam.

Team leader Arya Mohan has high hopes for her new job. “ I consider it an honour to be part of an important infrastructure project in Kerala,” said the 27-year-old from Angamaly in Ernakulam. “I am indebted to Kudumbashree Mission. I had struggled to find a job in my home town after completing graduation in biomedical engineering. Now I hope to build a new life.”

She added, “I will be leading a team in the housekeeping department, and the training has given me the confidence to work well.”

Mohan also said the fact that most of the employees are from a single organisation will work to their advantage, adding that the Kudumbashree Mission members are all aware of the importance of teamwork. “All the women are from Kudumbashree Mission, so we will excel as a team,” she said.

Trangender Jasmine is excited about earning a fixed income for the first time in her life. “I feel liberated,” she said. “All these years, I have been subjected to a lot of bad experiences. Society cursed the transgender community. I am happy to see that society has now agreed to our right to live.”

Jasmine, who holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology, said the training was a memorable experience for her. “It was for the first time that I sat in a classroom that had only members of the transgender community,” she said. “No one was there to humiliate us. I improved my communication skills after attending the training. I am ready to handle the ticketing section at any of the stations.”

The women from Kudumbashree Mission said they look forward to working with their transgender colleagues. “We are aware of the rights of transgenders,” said Arya Mohan. “We will give them all our support. We will grow with Kochi Metro together.”

A report in The Hindu quoted Elias George, managing director of Kochi Metro Rail Limited, as saying: “We would like to give members of the transgender community their rightful share in different jobs at stations. There will be no discrimination between them and women workers.” He added, “The Metro agency is the first government-owned company in India to formally appoint them. I hope other firms in Kerala give them a respectable opportunity to work.”

For now, all the new employees are waiting for the Metro to start its services. The first phase of the Rs 5,181-crore project – a 13-km stretch from Aluva to Palarivattom – received a safety certificate from the commissioner for Metro rail safety on Monday. Upon completion, the Metro will cover a distance of 25 km with 22 stations.