Meet Shanthi Sonu– Transgender RJ, Poetess & Human Right Activist
The second week of November is celebrated as Transgender Awareness Week, which ends with Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20th November every year. The weeklong celebration leads to the TDOR, which memorializes the lives of victims of trans-phobic violence and honour them. In this annually celebrated week of awareness, transgender advocates and human right activists raise awareness regarding the transgender community through educational and advocacy activities. This year, BananiVista celebrate the life of Transgender RJ, Poetess, and human right activist from the city of Bangalore – Meet our own Shanthi Sonu.
I remember meeting Shanthi Sonu and getting introduced as a co-poet for a poetry event in SHABDA – 2017, where she gave a mesmerizing poetry performance. Everyone was astounded by her performance so was me. And meeting her for the interview was sort of flashback to the night of her performance. She greeted me with her warm smile and a big hug. Her enthusiasm and passion lifted my energy levels to the sky.
Shanthi is someone who had fought a number of battles in the ground of life, yet she never let go of ‘hope’ in her life. This makes Shanthi the brave and beautiful person she is today.
Born and brought up in the city of Bangalore, she describes herself as a proud Bangalorean.
“I knew, I was very different right from my childhood itself. I remember when I was at the age of 7 or 8, I used to play with dolls, dress it, comb its hair, I loved Barbie and usually would play or hang around with girls. I hated to hang around with boys of my age and also to play with them,” mentioned Shanthi.
But her life soon started to turn to a battleground, when friends and neighbours started teasing her for something which is very normal to her as a child.
“I used to dress up with my sister’s clothes when no one was at home and I loved dressing like a girl. It was a dream of mine that I wanted to become a girl one day. Because of constantly been seen as different, the humiliations, and discrimination, I was not able to complete my studies. So I had to stop my studies. I could not continue after my 10th standard.” – Says Shanthi, with her teary eyes.
When I questioned her about her battle of coming out to her family and acceptance, she recalled how she gathered her courage one fine day and made all her family members sit together and expressed her heart out.
“I made all sit in the hall and became vocal of being a transgender. I asked them if they would accept me the way I was, I will stay with them or will leave home. After prolonged fights and battles, they were not ready to accept me for who I was. They also suggested that if I get married to a girl this would get solved but it did not happen luckily. After home arrests and attempting suicides twice, I left home and joined the Hijra or the Transgender community.” – says Shanthi. That’s what makes Shanthi so brave as a person and a beautiful woman she is today.
As I further questioned Shanti about the start of her wonderful career as an RJ in Radio Active, a community radio station in Bangalore, she smiled with pride and her eyes glittered when she spurted those words.
“I was invited for an event for the international family acceptance day from Ondede, by Dr. Akkai Padmashali. During the event, I shared my life story and how still many Transgenders are not accepted by their families. I was unaware of Pinky Chandran, Director of the Radio Active CR90 presence at the event. After the event was over Akkai and Pinky asked me if I would like to do shows in the community radio. Initially, I was shocked and expressed of being a novice. But they assured me of getting it all learned on the job. That’s how I became an RJ for a community Radio station in Bangalore. I hosted a show name ‘Ganatheya Dudimeygagi navvu manushyaru’ a talk show about life stories of the sex workers.” – Says Shanthi.
Apart from being an RJ and a poetess, Shanthi is also a human right activist who is the co-conspirer of the Aravani Art Project.
As I questioned Shanthi about her feelings of being an integral part of the Aravani Art Project. She quoted, “I am an artist and a documentarian in the Aravani art project, and I also write blogs. My journey into Aravani started when I was scrolling my facebook page and suddenly, I saw Aravani Art Project page and thought, ‘arrey Aravani is something that’s related to transgender!’ The second thing that shocked me was street art and graffiti happening in India as well as it was happening in other countries of the world, and the inclusion of the transgender community in the project. I connected Poornima Sukumaran, the Founder, and Director of Aravani Art Project. We met at ‘Kitch Mandi’, an art festival in Bangalore. After meeting her, we instantly bonded because of my passion for Art, and after that, it’s all magic. It’s been two and a half years now and I’m proud to say that I am an Artist.”
That smile on her face brightens the atmosphere. You can check her beautiful work on the webpage of the Aravani Art Project.
Curious to know about her future plans, Shanthi said, “I look forward to more of traveling filled with art and poetry.”
Shanthi Sonu is not only a transgender RJ but an artist, poetess, and human right activist. She has the courage in her art and a confident voice that reflects in her poetry that helps express the silent voices that are left unheard in a crowd.
This Transgender Awareness Week, we celebrate the courage, art, confidence, poetry, and Life of Shanthi Sonu.