“I didn’t know about Anjali Lama even being a transgender. I just cast her for my show because I loved her,” said Amit Aggarwal, one of India’s brightest designers, after his show earlier this month at Lakme Fashion Week held in Mumbai. “But it was a proud moment for me to see her wear my clothes. It expanded the language of my own creativity.”
For another Indian designer, Soumodeep Dutta, Anjali Lama’s presence at fashion week felt like he struck gold. His theme — the blurring of lines in the duality of nature — manifested itself perfectly when he discovered a transgender model would be walking in his show. “I believe when opposites meet, Hindu mythology celebrates this in the concept of “ardhanarishvara” (half-man, half-woman). Anjali breaks all norms. I was honoured to have her in my show,” said Dutta, who took part in the ‘Gen Next’ group.
As the first transgender model to walk the ramp in India, Anjali Lama has created a huge flutter in the fashion industry and the country at large. She was in such demand with press commitments, photo-ops, rehearsals and fittings that it was nearly impossible to get an interview with her. So popular was Lama in fact that she ended up being booked for more than a dozen runway shows during the week
“Life is what we make of it and the walls we erect to segregate or discriminate are reflective of the big walls in our own minds,” said Tahiliani. “No one has the right to strip anyone’s self-respect and a fair chance of a livelihood.”
This wasn’t the first such casting in India. Late last year, established textile designers from Lakme Fashion Week 2016 draped four classical transgender dance artists in contemporary handloom saris. Organisers said that the project was to give a “clear and loud message that fashion is diverse and inclusive of all genders”. While conducting a photo shoot with the transgender dancers, Gautam Vazirani, the fashion curator at IMG Reliance, explained why.
“As a person from the LGBT community myself, I see transgenders as people who have been able to create their own identity despite being so marginalised. This Lakme Fashion Week initiative was to celebrate that universal spirit that could motivate more people who are afraid to follow their heart, to come out. Anjali is one such example and we hope there will be more,” said Vazirani, who works for the event management firm behind the fashion week.
For her part, Anjali Lama is quiet and introspective about the overwhelming attention in her life. “In my village, nobody knew anything about fashion or modelling,” she confides, explaining that she was born to a farming village of Nuwakot in Nepal.
When she came under the wings of the Blue Diamond Society, an LGBT rights organisation in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, Lama swiftly affirmed her gender identity before embarking on a modelling career in neighbouring India.
Overcoming Social Stigma
While India’s transgender rights movement has made significant progress in recent years, the community continues to face widespread discrimination and challenges in society. Yet India has been at the forefront of a somewhat healthy dialogue on inclusivity. In 2014, the Indian Supreme Court passed a landmark judgement giving transgender citizens the constitutional guarantee to basic rights including personal liberty, dignity, education and empowerment.
“I didn’t realise that our fashion industry was so forward thinking to allow such a big issue to be addressed via fashion,” said Navonil Das, from the designer duo Dev r Nil. “I love the idea of blurring gender boundaries but the reality is, for both of us who are outspoken advocates of LGBTQI rights, we still have miles to go. We cannot be a forward-thinking society until we change Section 377 of the Indian law that criminalises homosexual acts.”
LGBT rights in India are perplexing and ambiguous. While the country’s Supreme Court ruled that “it is the right of every human being to choose their gender”, homosexuality under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code harks back to an 1860 British colonial era law. Though it does not criminalise homosexuality itself, it does criminalise homosexual “acts” because they are interpreted to be “against the order of nature”.
First appeared on The Business Of Fashion.