Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) under a development project of Ministry of Social Welfare's Department of Social Services trained some 50 transgender people (aged between 20 to 45) over the period of 20 days, starting from June 30 this year
Seeing a hijra (transgender individual) wearing a multicolour sari or a shalwar kameez, and extorting money from people on the streets, footpaths, intersections, public places, and vehicles in Dhaka is not an unusual sight.
Also, hijras performing at weddings, or at the homes of newborn babies, for money is not something uncommon for the city dwellers.
But, what if this neglected group of people start providing you with ride-sharing service?
As strange as it may sound, a number of transgender people, after receiving training as light vehicle drivers, are dreaming of achieving the feat, all thanks to a government initiative.
Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) under a development project of Ministry of Social Welfare's Department of Social Services trained some 50 transgender people (aged between 20 to 45) over the period of 20 days, starting from June 30 this year.
Most of these hijras were either sex workers, or used to extort money from others, who can now dream of a positive shift in their lives as now they are all set to take the written, verbal, and practical tests, possibly in October, to avail their driving licences.
“We want a normal life like others. We do not want to beg or do anything disrespectful. We do not want to extort money on the streets. But employment is very hard to get by, as we are neglected by everyone, thus we are unable to develop any skills,” said Srabonti Hijra, secretary of Socheton Somaj Seba Hijra Songho.
The transgender leader claimed that the few of those who pursued education from their community are currently unemployed as the society is not considerate of their inclusion in the workforce.
She said a total of 17 hijras, after being trained by the BRTC, are now thinking of becoming app-based ride-sharing service providers.
“Our trained members want to work as for-hire drivers of Uber,” she added fearing if these hijras remain unemployed despite receiving training from BRTC, they will return to their old ways out of frustration.
Ivan Ahmed Katha, president of the platform, said she herself also wants to be a ride-sharing service provider “I will firstly a buy a car for my partner, who has received training from BRTC, and then join any of the existing app-based ride-sharing companies.”
Kotha, who is a private job-holder, said she will drive the same car during her weekends, and provide rides to the commuters.
According to the Department of Social Welfare, around 9,285 transgender people live in the country, with about 300 in the capital alone.
"Up to 80% of the transgender population in Dhaka city are engaged in extortion to make a living. The vast number of hijras remained neglected in the job market as most of them are deprived from proper education, and necessary skill development," said Salma Begum, assistant director of the department.
Under the department’s “Development program for improving the living standard of the Hijra community,” Bangladesh government trained 50 transgender people, she said, terming it a good opportunity for the "otherwise" neglected group in the society.
Under the training program, each of the 50 hijras were given Tk2,500 each per week as travel allowance.
"After the driving tests are completed, all of the hijras will be given Tk10,000 each, even if they fail to obtain a licence. Such projects, along with other skill development initiatives, will be undertaken outside Dhaka to create similar employment opportunities for the betterment of the transgender community,” Salma added.
According to at least seven organizations working for the hijras, there are atleast 80,000 transgender people across the country at present.
Appreciating the initiative, Sayeda Nabila Mahabub, general manager of Pathao, a leading ride-hailing service provider, said they really appreciate this initiative.
"As soon as they (hijras) avail their licences, we would like to contact them on our own, and help them provide ride-sharing service,” she said.
However, Nabila clarified that Pathao will not provide them any vehicles to operate.