21 March 2006

Outsourcing, tailored for eunuchs

Calcutta, May 19: A business venture moving from China to India is giving the 3,000-strong eunuch community of Calcutta a chance to be counted. Sustenance through sewing will be their mantra in a somewhat curious case of outsourcing.

Representatives from Transgendered Voices, Inc., a Colorado-based non-profit corporation, are in town to encourage eunuchs to take up sewing and make clothing for not only the “heavily-built transgender Americans”, but “all kinds of special sizes” not available at readymade stores.

Elizabeth Jeffords and Florence Vanmalderen. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

In town since yesterday, Elizabeth Jeffords, executive director of Transgendered Voices, told The Telegraph: “We want the hijras from here and other parts of India to be self-dependent financially. Ninety-five per cent of hijras that I have met in this country are sex workers. They have not explored other options of sustenance. We are trying to assist them through creative and intellectual activities.”

The fact that there is no wearable option today for Americans “who are not of standard size” could open up a busy new world for a community languishing in bylanes.

“Even 50 to 70 years ago, you could have got tailors to make you specially-sized skirts for transgenders and other big and small people,” said Jeffords. “But now, you only get standard sizes off the racks at the malls. So we have been getting junk clothing made from the lowest levels in China and the Philippines. And now, we want to establish business with India, to get quality clothing at the same price, and help the hijras in the process.”

Having already established a base in Bangalore, Transgendered Voices is hopeful of the response from the Calcutta community. “Although it is not a political theme, I don’t feel a communist society like Calcutta should be any different from a capitalist society like Bangalore. I expect a greater support from the West Bengal government to help them be empowered individually.”

During her week-long stay in the city, Jeffords and her business manager Florence Vanmalderen will meet “important people” like police authorities, AIDS Council representatives and the secretary of the state women and child welfare department.

“To provide a platform for this project, we are having a special dinner at the new Salt Lake convention centre, Rotunda, on Saturday,” said Koushik Chatterjee, chief executive worker of The Bodhi, a local organisation helping out Transgendered Voices. “We want the eunuchs to meet Jeffords and feel comfortable about the proposal.”

But will it help wipe out the social stigma? “Once they start working, they will earn the respect they deserve and merge into the social fold,” said Jeffords, looking forward to seeing Shabnam Mausi (a film on India’s first eunuch MLA).



  1. I got loads of clothes from India the last time I was there and had come back with 2 suitcase full of new outfits. I must say that the tailoring is excellent and would definitely go back for more.

    If it helps the hijra community as well, its a very good idea to tap into their creativity as well. Who knows that there might be an up and coming designer as well among their community!!

    Thanks for the info



  2. im transgender and ive completed a degree in fashion from the london college of fashion.im desperate to have a sex change but my parents are against it as they are traditional indians and we live in the very conservative city of calcutta.i would like to help the above NGO in any way possible as i have a great fashion sense and have been wondering for the past few months what to do with my degree.i dress like a man though as im not even allowed to be on hormones.pls pls help me out here

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  5. I am a transgender from kolkata. i met ms. jeffords when she was in kolkata. i had a great time with her. she is a very dignified ledy i have ever seen. i also travelled with her to mayapur and enjoyed there a lot.therefore,now i have comepleted my m.s.w. degree and want to work with ms. elizabeth d. jeffords but can not communicate with her because of not having her address to communicate. if anyone has her postal address, web-address or anything please make me know to my e-mail id(chopernicus66@yahoo.com). i am dying to meet her and work with her! please help me out.


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