Passionate mother of transgender people in India

Prema Chowallur was destined to become a teacher like her Catholic parents. She ended up becoming a social worker and champion for the rights of transgender people, one of the most marginalized groups in India.

Originally from the state of Kerala in southern India, she developed a strong vocation to serve the poor and needy as she grew up, leading her to join the Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod (SCC) in 1977 at the age 18.

The nun made her final vows in 1981 and 1988 and pursued higher education. She obtained a master’s degree in business and education and became principal of the famous ICSE school in Gorakpur district, Uttar Pradesh state.

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Sister Chowallur’s life took a turn in 2000 when her boss assigned her to a social work center, which she gladly accepted.

“My goal was to become religious and to serve the poor. Although I was totally dedicated to the ministry of education for 15 years, the desire to work for the poorest of the poor and the left behind was very close to my heart, ”Sister Chowallur said. , 62, at UCA News.

Since then, the charismatic nun has traveled and worked with various church and development groups across India to support poor communities.

Sister Chowallur’s life of service widened in 2015 as she began to fight human trafficking and the plight of LGBTQ communities.

She worked with Palli Unnayan Samiti (Rural Development Society or PUS) in Baruipur in the state of West Bengal and Tarumitra (Friends of Trees), an environmental charity based in Patna in the state of Bihar. She has collaborated with the North East Diocesan Social Service Society (NEDSSS) in Guwahati, capital of the state of Assam, and Purvanchal Pragati Samaj (Eastern Development Society or PPS), both covering North East India.

Her prolific social work was recognized worldwide and in 2005 she was invited to participate in a United Nations consultation on sustainable development.

Sister Chowallur then became vice-president of the Indian chapter of Talitha Kum, a worldwide network of Vatican-sponsored religious congregations against human trafficking. She is also a facilitator of the North East Forum for Justice and Peace and coordinator of her congregation’s Crossian Consortium to Reach Out to the Periphery (CCROP).

Sister Chowallur’s life of service widened in 2015 as she began to fight human trafficking and the plight of LGBTQ communities.

“In 2016, I saw a lady sitting alone on a bus I was traveling in and I dared to sit next to her where no one dared to sit. I started chatting with her and she told her painful story – how she was kicked out of her family and ended up in a railroad slum. It inspired me to work for those who live on the margins or even outside society, ”recalls the nun.

The meeting encouraged her to join the Global Rainbow Catholic Network (GNRC) and the Indian Rainbow Catholic Network (INRC), enabling her to better understand the challenges and plight of LGBTQ communities.

The nun began to take to the streets looking for transgender people, mostly from the Kinner / Hijra community (eunuch). She listened with passion to their stories of pain, struggles, abuse and discrimination, and she felt strongly that she had to do something to help them.

She started inviting poor transgender people to her convent in the Joypur area of ​​Guwahati for discussions and food, which they greatly appreciated.

Her religious order, superiors and confreres supported her as she began to take a less traveled path. The current Superior General, Sister Elizabeth Miranda, has enabled their province to create a home for transgender people.

The nun befriended Nayaks and Gurus, the leaders of the community, and gained their trust. She then began to visit community members regularly and invited them to attend various programs, including Christmas and New Years.

This condition melted the transgender community and they began to see her as one of them. They often call her “Maa” (Mother).

The nun has organized numerous social and awareness gatherings attended by dignitaries and Catholic officials, increasing interaction as a means of gradually reducing the marginalization of the transgender community. Such meetings created a sense of pride and dignity in the community.

My approach is like a double-edged sword. I motivate the transgender community to discipline and refine their life

She also brought in psychiatrists and psychologists, as many transgender people need counseling to overcome trauma.

“My approach is like a double-edged sword. I motivate the transgender community to discipline and refine their lives, which leads them to transform their way of life, although it is a long process, ”said Sister Chowallur.

About 60 transgender people have directly benefited from the nun’s ministry and she is also in contact with over 400 LGBTQ people.

For years, Sister Chowallur and her confreres have envisioned a home for the transgender community in Guwahati.

Finally, on June 2, the Rainbow Home of Seven Sisters was inaugurated in Christian Basti (shanty town) in Guwahati with the full support of the Archdiocese of Guwahati. The event brought together social and religious dignitaries amid the wish that the refuge will remain a ray of hope and a sign of God’s love for humanity, especially the transgender community.

Jesuit Father Owen Chourappa, lawyer and director of the Guwahati-based Human Rights Legal Unit, blessed the home.

The priest appreciated the efforts of the nun to satisfy a great desire he had to open a center for transgender people without being able to move it forward.

“I am happy to see that the Rainbow Home for the trans community started near our institute by the Sisters of the Cross,” said the priest.

Local leader Sandillya Dulal Goswami applauded Sister Chowallur’s indomitable spirit and her unwavering love for transgender people.

“Sister Prema will not give up until she achieves her goal. Her persistent and inexorable search for a space to house the transgender community has proven it,” he said, adding that he This was a very rare type of service.

“The sisters initiated and made a reality where broken, broken and homeless people can find a home,” he added.

Even though there is a quota of jobs in some states like Kerala, transgender people have had to quit their jobs due to non-acceptance, threats and humiliation.

The nun said she plans to welcome trans children to good schools, as she seeks land where trans people can be rehabilitated effectively.

“For now, this center will accommodate both adults and trans children. There will be separate sections for the Kinner / Hijra community, trans women and children belonging to this third gender, ”she said.

South Asian countries, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, enjoy legal recognition and protection, including education and employment rights, but transgender people do. some of the most marginalized communities in the region due to extreme social stigma and discrimination.

Sister Chowallur laments that most legal protections only remain on paper and are not a reality. Transgender people are not accepted by families and society and are looked down upon, teased and treated as objects everywhere.

“Even though there is a job quota in some states like Kerala, transgender people have had to quit their jobs due to non-acceptance, threats and humiliation. In India, people generally believe that they are a curse and a disgrace to the family, ”she said.

Now the nun is looking forward to a dignified life for all trans people.

“We don’t want to see trans people kicked out anymore. Rather, we aim to reduce the number of them living in slums and roaming the streets, ”she said.

“We would like to provide a more socially acceptable lifestyle with some discipline, a better moral life and both the soft skills and life skills required for independent living. This is our first step towards making a big dream come true.

Sister Prema Chowallur with transgender people during the distribution of food rations during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo provided)


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