Pune: “It’s a start-up,” said Nitish Lokhande, a transwoman who now goes by the name Natasha, choosing to use this popular term for ‘entrepreneurship’ about her quest for getting elected to the Maharashtra State Assembly.
She is the first transgender candidate from Pune district.
She has been campaigning for the last 15 days in Chinchwad constituency.
“People’s perception of transgenders has always been different. They have always looked down upon them. I wish to change that perception of people towards transgenders. I felt this would be a ‘start-up’ in itself, where I can serve the people as well as represent my community.”
The 32-year-old has made her debut in politics with this election.
A hotel management graduate and social worker, Lokhande believes that contesting an election will empower the whole Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ+) community.
Though the LGBTQ+ community knows her as ‘Natasha’, she will appear as ‘Nitish Lokhande’ next to the symbol of a rickshaw, the symbol of Janhit Lokshahi Party, on the electronic voting machines on the day of elections.
Her documents still carry the name Nitish, though she started the process of changing her official name in all documents after Section 377 was struck down a year ago.
The streets of Walhekarwadi resonated with the slogans of ‘Nari Shakti’ and Vote for Rickshaw (Lokhande’s symbol in this election) by the women campaigning squad that included housemaids, a bangle seller, a vegetable vendor and many housewives, on Monday.
Few onlookers, mostly women, also joined her rally to show support.
“Many people came out to tell me that they are happy to see a fresh face contesting this election. Just now, a woman came out of her house and said we will vote for you, no matter whether you turn up after the elections or not,” said Lokhande.
“They have found a ray of hope in me,” she added.
Overcoming personal challenges
After becoming a transwoman, the real battle began as people started bullying and calling her names. “I tried to overlook these problems,” said Lokhande.
“But there was another kind of people who helped me overcome these challenges. My guru too was very supportive and progressive. She was educated so I was never forced to beg or work as a sex worker,” she added.
Her Woman Squad
Her supporters feel she will bring a positive change to society. “A woman had given birth to her. She is a woman like any of us. What is the difference? All we know is she will help us out of our dire situations,” said one of her supporters, 50-year-old Laxmi Shinde, who works as a bangle seller.
Her supporters also feel that she would be there for them even after the elections, unlike other politicians who disappear after polling day.
“She has always heard about our problems and resolved them. She wasn’t a politician then, but helped us selflessly,” said Madhuri Balchin (42), a housemaid, who starts her day at 4 am to finish her housework and other work so that she can join Lokhande’s campaign rally.
“My madams do ask why am I working so early daily or why do I leave early from work. I have told them that I will be busy in this rally till the election is over,” said Bhalchin.
For the past 15 days, these women have been working for 5-6 hours for the campaign post their daily chores. Sangeeta Phulare (45) too has kept her vegetable shop closed for two weeks. “All these women participating in this rally have bought their daily vegetables from me so that I can also come to participate with them. I am not worried about my business, I want her to win,” she said.