S Veena’s efforts have not just helped in filling hungry stomachs, but also towards shaking off deep-seated prejudices in the society. Reaching out to transgenders, single women, and widows, is what S. Veena, a transgender from Bengaluru is ensuring during the lockdown. Till now, she has distributed about 10,000 kilograms of rations.
Rising to the occasion during a crisis is not something new for S. Veena, a 44-year-old transgender who has been involved in social work for the past 15 years. As soon as the lockdown was announced in late March, she began cooking 25 kilograms of rice every day, deftly making about 300 food packets and heading out to nearby low-income areas in Bengaluru to hand over the food.
Veena would patiently weave her way through narrow lanes knocking on the doors of tiny homes with the meal that she had prepared. Thousands needed it desperately, since the lockdown due to the pandemic took a heavy toll on them. Workers, domestic help, construction laborers, auto-rickshaw drivers, and street hawkers, were suddenly deprived of their daily wages as they were confined to their homes.
It was not an easy start for S. Veena. “Initially some people hesitated taking food from me, probably because I am a transgender. But I did not think too much and never let that impact me in any way because there was just so much work to be done,” she says nonchalantly. Her perseverance helped.
As the lockdown extended further and the going became tougher, people and communities became more grateful as she quietly went around distributing food packets. “Later on, I got a lot of support and many came forward to help out and give me a word of appreciation,” she recalls with a sense of satisfaction.
Veena knew that while thousands were in desperate straits in the troubled times, some would need a bigger helping hand because they are often ignored by the society.
The transgender community is one amongst many communities badly hit due to the lockdown because unlike many others, they usually have no families and no homes to return to. Moreover, their usual means of earning had vanished overnight as Bengaluru, like many other cities, had turned into a ghost town. “I knew many of them would get overlooked and would be facing hunger,” she says. “Then there were others like widows and single women.”
People appreciated her thoughtfulness and many would often tell her, “Amma, you have done a great job because nobody gives food to us. People look at us and sometimes they go away. I got blessings from a lot of people,” she remembers happily.
Out of the 300 meals that she used to prepare, Veena would give out about 150 to people in her community and the rest to daily wage workers. But realizing that the need was enormous, she kept increasing it with the support of local organizations like Rotary clubs who pitched in to help her further. Others also stepped forward; a restaurant in her vicinity - Adyar Anand Bhavan – began giving her 1600 food packets daily. Prepared with care, the food would vary every day - from Bisi bele bhaat, to Lemon rice and sometimes Sambar rice.
After a couple of months, Veena switched from cooked food to rations and estimates that she has handed out 8000-10,000 kilograms till now. “First we used to give 10 kg aata and 2 kg potatoes to 600 people, but then we realized that sometimes there are about eight to ten people in one household. So we increased the quantity and now we give 15 kg rice, 4 kg dal, 1 kg sugar, 1 kg washing powder, 2 kgs of oil and half kg tea leaves,” she says proudly. And in a city that likes its food spicy, half kg of red chili powder also goes into the kit that has become a lifeline for many.
Even though Veena spent her days in low-income neighborhoods till late in the evening, she never worried about falling prey to COVID 19. “I took all the precautions – using hand sanitizer, wearing a mask, and maintaining social distance. I understood that healthy people would not be impacted by it severely even if they did fall sick compared to those with existing problems.”
While Veena is undoubtedly one among many who have helped stave off hunger during the pandemic, her effort has an unexpected silver lining. Unconsciously, she also helped break a deep-rooted social bias against her community. People in her neighborhood now see her as someone who reached out to them during a crisis of unprecedented proportions.