By Annu Bansal*
When I first watched a video on Zoya Lobo on BBC News Hindi, I saw a rebel in kohl-lined eyes! A rebel who broke the societal norms to become the first Transgender photojournalist of India!
Zoya Thomas Lobo is an inspiration for everyone, and she is fighting hard to earn respect for the transgender community of India. When speaking with Zoya, you can sense her self-assurance right away. And, even as she fumbles and stammers when she begins delivering her experience in English, one can only respect her passion for photography and telling stories.
Born and brought up in a lower-middle-class family in Mahim, Mumbai, Zoya overcame many obstacles and faced discrimination to gain her own identity as a trans woman. She could not open up with anyone and was drowning in the sea of fear and stress. “I could not understand who I am and Why am I different,” says Zoya.
She had to do a part-time job at the age of 17 to support her family. She adds that “People knew about me and used to tease me by calling Hijra, which was very abusive to me.” It was one of her assignments where she met a transgender friend who accepted her. Zoya got a Guru and could finally be herself!
She started begging in the Ladies’ compartment in the Mumbai local trains. She narrated her experience in a short movie on transgenders, and her talent got recognized. Zoya says that “I entered journalism without any knowledge, so didn’t understand the concept. Slowly, I was back to begging to support my livelihood.” She was fascinated by looking at the camera in her term as a journalist, hence started saving money to purchase a camera.
“I brought my first 2nd hand camera with the 30,000 that I had saved, tells Zoya, adding that it was one senior who taught basic photography skills to her.
The transgender community was one of the most hit sections due to nationwide Covid lockdown, and Zoya was not left. “There was a time when I went to sell my hard-earned camera as I had no money left,” says Zoya. She also adds that an NGO, the Ashadeep community, in Mumbai helped and assured her, and she managed to save her camera. However, the lockdown also brought her an opportunity to capture the migrant workers’ protest, and that’s how she became a photojournalist.
Zoya has 6900+ Instagram Followers. She further states that “Now I have the exposure, but I need a job! Most of the media houses contacted me in Pride Month, but after that, it reduced. I do not want to go back to begging, but that’s the only way to support myself”. She further tells that people generally forget about our struggle and sufferings after the pride month and that the community wants the same respect irrespective of the day or month.
She still faces discrimination, and not everyone is comfortable with a transgender photographer. “I do not want my friends to suffer. I want them to be able to study without any restrictions and abuses. I want them to be accepted by their family. I hope my struggle and story inspires more Zoyas”, says Zoya before ending the conversation.
*Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad | PGP Class of 2022