Maya Sree, along with her classmates Pragya, Sai, and Rahmatullah, is the first transgender person to be appointed as a drone pilot in India.
Maya Sree, who only goes by one name, left her village in 2018 to pursue her dream of living as a transwoman. Her parents were not accepting of her as she was, or of the occupations she had taken to support herself earlier. “However, when my parents learned that I was working for Dhaksha on the Anna University campus, they called and spoke with me, telling me that they were very proud of me.” Maya Sree, a Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)-certified drone pilot of Chennai-based Dhaksha Unmanned Systems (DUMS), told Moneycontrol, “It’s not only a work for me, it’s a new life.”
Maya Sree, along with her classmates Pragya, Sai, and Rahmatullah, is the first transgender person to be appointed as a drone pilot in India. They had to go through extensive training before being hired by the corporation, which uses drones for surveillance, agriculture, and defence. This position at DUMS provides them with a consistent source of income and a reputable workplace, as well as a step toward providing dignity, stability, and safety to transgender persons.
Why are drones being used? “Whenever we saw an aeroplane, we all fantasised about flying in the sky since we were little.” What if I were a bird, I wondered? “Today, I am proud to be a transwoman; to tell people that I am working on this prestigious Anna University campus, with a respectable ID card; and we are trying to encourage more and more people like us to come here,” said Maya Sree, a distinguished graduate.
Under the former Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Rules regime, DUMS got the Remote Pilot Training Organisation (RPTO) licence in 2021, and they now train at the Centre for Aerospace Research (CASR) at Madras Institute of Technology, Anna University. The CASR RPTO is the official name of the RPTO. They’ve already trained 11 batches of pilots and will begin training for the 12th soon.
This was a cooperative endeavour between us and Indian Oil, who wanted to do something unique with their CSR (corporate social responsibility) efforts. Our transgender team members were identified by a social service organisation named Bodhi Charitable Trust in Chennai, and it was a terrific opportunity to enrol them in our RPTO programme. When we were training them, we believed they should have equal opportunities for finding work and sustaining their life. So we reasoned, why not lead by example and absorb them? DUMS CEO Ramanathan Narayanan told Moneycontrol, “We have already absorbed four individuals and will add two more.”
The NGO Bodhi Charitable Trust alerted Pragya from the Virudhunagar district in south Tamil Nadu about this work opportunity. “The course lasted ten days and was similar to a conventional college course.” There were ‘regular boys’ (Cis men), trans men, and trans women on our 15-member squad. I was concerned about all of us learning together, wondering if the lads and the trainer would be comfortable with us. Because there is a phobia of transgender people in Tamil Nadu; even when someone approaches us, they say, “Oh, you’re a transwoman, what if you don’t behave nicely with me?” “I was afraid I’d be treated the same way here,” Pragya explained.
Pragya, on the other hand, was made to feel at ease during the training, and once she finished it, she returned home before receiving a call about her acceptance, which she was overjoyed about.
“There was some initial reluctance that they might be disobedient, irregular, or not suit the training shoes,” CEO Narayanan said. “But honestly, I found them to be one of the most disciplined in terms of punctuality and who have been really attending training.” Divya C, the firm claims is the first woman in the country to be accredited as a drone instructor, trained them all.
“When I wear the Dhaksha staff employment card, society seems to embrace me,” Pragya stated, gesturing to her ID card. “This office and its colleagues are like a family to me, and we share food.” And we feel at home when we share meals,” she said, adding that the position has helped her renew her relationship with her family.
Rahmatullah, a trans man, has also worked in a variety of jobs. He completed his studies in Salem and became a qualified lab technician. He is originally from Palani in the Dindigul district. He moved to Chennai soon after, intending to earn enough money to cover the high expense of a sex change procedure. Rahmatullah, on the other hand, could only find lowly work as a tea stand worker. “I went without food for many days and had to pawn my mother’s jewellery just to feed,” Rahmatullah explained.
As a result, when Rahmatullah received a call from Bodhi about the pilot training, he was sceptical since he believed the money offered would be insufficient. “I expected the compensation to be around $10,000.” (Rs 10,000). Because I’ve encountered this in many locations… The few funds will be used for rent, food, and other necessities. “There will be none left in hand,” he predicted. However, as drone pilots, Rahmatullah and his colleagues earn more than Rs 15,000 per month, and DUMS operations head Wing Commander KR Srikanth (retd) stated that the personnel will receive conventional increments and promotions in the future.
Transgender people have traditionally had a difficult time finding work and getting an education. According to a 2018 survey by the National Human Rights Commission, around 92 percent of transgender people in the country are denied the opportunity to participate in any type of economic activity, with even qualified individuals being denied employment. According to the report, 50-60% of transgender people have never attended school and have encountered harassment.
Maya Sree claims that anytime she went for an interview, she had the impression that the potential employer was seeking for a reason not to hire her. “They’ll want certain qualifications and look for any cause to fire you.” As a result, most of my acquaintances who formerly worked in reputable organisations now find it extremely difficult to handle tasks. They claim that they were given more work to force them to resign.”
“That’s why we feel detached or isolated whenever we go to work in a place.” They look at us strangely, as if they are pitying us or sympathising with us. But we don’t require it. “What we really want are societal improvements; we deserve better education,” she added.
Governments and corporations have recently attempted to reach out to the marginalised communities. For example, the state of Karnataka has opted to hire transgender applicants for primary school teachers. The department of primary and secondary education, which is hiring 15,000 graduate primary school teachers for grades 6 to 8, has chosen to set aside 1% of the slots for transgender applicants.
Tata Steel declared in September 2021 that it was only accepting applications from transgender people for the position of heavy earth moving machinery operators in its West Bokaro division.