In Varanasi, on polling day, Salma found there were two queues – one for men and another for women. The Bangali Tola polling booth had been set up in a government school, in a narrow lane that leads to the famous Vishwanath temple.

The 25-year-old trans woman stood in the queue for women, but, she says, “ aankhein badi ho gayi thi sabki [everyone stared]. The men pretended not to see me and the women started grinning and whispering when I stood at the end of their queue.”

But Salma did not care. “I went in anyway,” she says, “I have the right to [vote] and I used it to bring the change we need today.”

Data from the Election Commission of India (EC) shows there are 48,044 “third gender voters” in India. Despite the sizeable number, getting a voter ID as a trans person is not always easy. In Varanasi, says Neeti, founder-director of the non-governmental organisation Prismatic, there are around 300 trans folk, and getting voter IDs for them has been a struggle. “We got voter-IDs for around 50 trans persons. But the EC mandated home visits for verification which was a problem for many of the members of the community who did not want people coming to their homes to verify their gender,” she adds.

Salma, though, did not face any hurdles in getting her voter ID made. “I don’t live with my family or anyone who doesn’t know my identity,” she says.

PHOTO • Jigyasa Mishra

When Salma when to cast her vote on June 1, 2024 at the polling booth (left) in the Bangali Tola neighbourhood of Varanasi, she found there were separate queues for men and women. Salma, a trans woman and small business owner, was met with stares when she joined the second queue. But Salma went in and cast her vote (right). 'I did not care,' she says

Forced to drop out of school after studying till Class 5 because her classmates bullied her for the way she walked and talked, Salma now lives with her brother. She runs a small business selling Banarasi sarees, earning around Rs. 10,000 a month. Salma buys sarees from local shops and sends them to customers in other cities.

In Varanasi for the last six years, Shamaa, a trans woman, earns her living as a sex worker. “I was born and brought up in a village in Ballia district. But things were too complicated there because of my gender,” she explains. “Neighbours would nag my parents. My father would abuse me and mother for not being normal. He blamed my mother for giving birth to someone like me, who has no gender. So I came to Varanasi, the closest city to me.” On the day of polling, she reached the booth early. “I wanted to avoid the crowd and people’s stares,” Shamaa tells PARI.

The city has also not always been a safe space, especially for trans persons, although the Transgender Persons ( Protection of Rights ) Act directs governments to take steps for the rescue, protection and rehabilitation of transgender persons and to address their needs. Neeti says they deal with five to seven cases of harassment every month.

The trans women PARI spoke to share their experiences of abuse, like Salma who faced bullying, or Archana, who was sexually harassed by her employer at the beauty parlour where she worked. Archana went to file a complaint at the police station where the officials did not believe her and instead threatened and humiliated her. Archana was not shocked by their behaviour. She refers to the gang-rape of a female student at IIT-BHU in 2024 and says, “when a woman has no safety, how can a trans woman be safe?”

PHOTO • Jigyasa Mishra
PHOTO • Abhishek K. Sharma

Left: Salma says that government jobs should have reservations for trans persons. Right: Transgender individuals participate in a public rally in Varanasi before the polls to voice their demands. Salma is on the left (brown salwar kameez)


The high-profile Varanasi Lok Sabha seat was contested by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who won by a margin of 1.5 lakh against his closest rival, Ajay Rai of the Congress party.

“It’s been ten years since the PM took over as the Member of Parliament of our city, but has he ever thought of us?” Salma asks. Now, she feels worried about the future. “It looks dark. But we are keeping our eyes on this government,” she says.

Shamaa and Archana agree. The two trans women had voted for Narendra Modi in 2019, but changed their choice in 2024. This time, Shama says, “I voted for change.”

Archana, a 25-year-old undergraduate student who supports herself through sex work, says, “I was impressed by Modi’s speeches. Now I know he was only reading from a teleprompter.”

They feel the same way about the changes in law and the rights guaranteed to them on paper.

PHOTO • Jigyasa Mishra

Salma and the other trans women PARI spoke to feel let down by the government and worried about the future. 'It looks dark, Salma says, 'but we are keeping our eyes on this government'

“Ten years ago, they did the bare minimum and called it a historic judgement by merely accepting us as the third gender but only on paper,” Shamaa says, referring to the 2014 judgment of the Supreme Court which recognised “transgenders to be the third gender amongst other guidelines to the government.” These other guidelines included reservations in educational institutions and public employment and taking steps to frame social welfare schemes for the community.

In 2019, the central government passed the Transgender Persons ( Protection of Rights ) Act, which ensured non-discrimination and obligation in education and jobs; it did not provide for any reservations in admission in educational institutions and public employment.

“We want the government to give us reservations for every job out there – from a peon’s to an officer’s,” says Salma.

(All names in the story, except Neeti and Salma’s have been changed on request)

Jigyasa Mishra

Jigyasa Mishra is an independent journalist based in Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh.

Other stories by Jigyasa Mishra
Editor : Sarbajaya Bhattacharya

Sarbajaya Bhattacharya is a Senior Assistant Editor at PARI. She is an experienced Bangla translator. Based in Kolkata, she is interested in the history of the city and travel literature.

Other stories by Sarbajaya Bhattacharya