MUMBAI - A transgender model will walk the ramp at one of India's premier fashion events next month for the first time, a sign of greater acceptance of a community that is ostracized despite recent laws ensuring their protection and more opportunities.
Anjali Lama, who is from Nepal, first auditioned for the Lakmé Fashion Week last year but was rejected, she said. She will model for several leading designers at the show running from Feb. 1 to Feb. 5 in Mumbai."It wasn't easy for me in the early days when there was so much rejection and discrimination," Lama, 32, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Now I am getting an overwhelming response from the fashion industry after being selected, and other transgender people tell me they are proud of me."
Born Nabin Waiba Tamang, Lama said she took the name Anjali, a common name in India and Nepal, after a transgender friend suggested it.
Lama joined a modeling academy in Kathmandu, but did not come out to her family. When someone from her village found out Lama was living as a transgender woman and told her family, they cut ties with her and told her that she had let them down.
"My mother, to some extent, was more accepting but there really wasn't much awareness then," Lama said.
"There is more awareness and acceptance now in Nepal, and that has helped more people like me to come out," she said.
Nepal emerged from a decade of conflict against Maoist rebels in 2006 after which it began to acknowledge the rights of the country's LGBT community.
In 2007, the country's Supreme Court ruled that citizens were entitled to select their gender identity.
Nepal granted protections to LGBT people in its new Constitution and began issuing passports with a third gender category in 2015, one of only a handful of countries to do so.
Still, discrimination and abuse persist, and jobs are hard to come by.
In India, transgender people are eligible for quotas in jobs and educational institutions. They are even getting a boost from Bollywood films, with a pop band of transgender women featuring on the soundtrack of a Hindi movie last year.
The Lakmé Fashion Week is committed to inclusivity and breaking stereotypes in gender, size and beauty, said Jaspreet Chandok, fashion head at IMG Reliance, an organizer of the event.
"This season, our model pool will feature a transgender, a gender neutral and a plus size model ... (to) take these conversations forward, shining light on some these issues and bringing them to the national consciousness," he said.