Gauri Sawant, 37, prefers to call herself a transgender mother. After she adopted a girl several years ago, the transgender activist embraced motherhood. Sawant, who was among the key petitioners when the Supreme Court recognised transgenders as a third gender five years ago, has been named one of the 12 'state icons' from Maharashtra who have been given the responsibility of raising awareness among voters.
"This is a huge responsibility… not only the transgender community, I aim to reach out to every community and convince them of the need to exercise their franchise," Sawant tells The Indian Express.
Sawant, who was born as Ganesh in Pune's Bhawani Peth area, lost her mother at a tender age. She prefers not to talk about her family in Pune as she says it is painful to relive the memories. "I was never accepted, not then and not now," she says. "But with my new role as poll ambassador, I am happy that my voice will be heard," adds Sawant.
The feeling of not being accepted only strengthened her resolve to reach out to the other deprived sections of the community. "I started working with sex workers when I left Pune and went to Mumbai," says Sawant.
A graduate from a Mumbai college, who later completed her post graduation through an open university, admits that while she has seen some tough times, she has never had to beg on the streets, like many members of her community are forced to do.
"I am also a part of society and can feel the pain of not being accepted for who I am. Five years since the Supreme Court has given us our third gender status, we can legally demand our rights and our identity," says Sawant.
As a social worker, Sawant has been involved in setting up a drop-in centre, Nani Ka Ghar, for the children of sex workers. She also works as a coordinator with Swayam Siddha, an NGO where the transgender activist encourages older members of their community to learn skills like soap-making, among others.
A crusader in her own right, the 'poll ambassador' has already started taking steps to raise awareness among voters.
"Election day is not just a holiday. Women need to understand that they have to exercise their right to vote. I will be creating awareness among several communities," she said.
Other 'state icons' chosen by the state chief electoral officer include nuclear physicist Anil Kakokdar, sportspersons Smriti Mandhana, Virdhawal Khade, Rahi Sarnobat and Lalita Babar, actors Mrinal Kulkarni, Prashant Damle, Nishigandha Waad and Usha Jadhav, among others.