Flavour of freedom: Kerala transwoman shares her journey of food entrepreneurship

Amritha Joseph Mathew, an entrepreneur, wants to inspire the world with her story. The transwoman and her mother runs a venture under Kudumbashree

author_img Express News Service Published :  05th January 2022 10:11 AM   |   Published :   |  05th January 2022 10:11 AM
Amritha

Amritha Joseph Mathew, an entrepreneur, wants to inspire the world with her story. The transwoman and her mother runs a venture under Kudumbashree

KOCHI: The transgender community in India has been living in the shadows for too long. Several governmental and non-governmental initiatives have been trying to give them a helping hand over the last few years. Despite these efforts, many from the LGBTQ+ community is forced into unfair labour, prostitution and begging. 

Amritha Joseph Mathew knew that her journey won’t be easy. Wading through stigma with hard work, the 30-year-old food entrepreneur has been running her pickle and juice shop near Kakkanad collectorate civil station since 2017.

Raised in Kothamangalam, Amritha and her mother Mary shifted to Kakkanad in Ernakulam many years ago. Unlike other kids, Amritha had to do odd jobs since her school days to pay her fees. Her mother was a home nurse who earned negligible income. “At 20, I understood that I was a transwoman. I used to have a different notion about the trans community back then because I have only seen them on trains. People always speak of them with contempt.

Then, I saw a group of transgender cross-dressers performing in Harippad. They fascinated me. I have had a passion for dancing all my life too. Soon, I became a part of their troupe. That is where I learned more about the trans community, and how wrong the world is to ostracise them,” says Amritha. Amritha also runs a dance troupe named Sree Nataraja Kalasamidhi registered under the Kudumbasree project Pratyasha. They perform at temple festivals.

The homemade pickles and fresh juices are branded ‘Amritha’, but her mother Mary makes them. “My mother is a great cook. She once gave some of her pickles to our neighbour before they left for UAE. They ended up placing orders for a few batches. This is when we had the idea to start a venture,” says Amritha. Her lime, mango, chicken, fish, beef, and bitter gourd pickles are in high demand at Kudumbasree melas. She even put up a stall at the India Gate in Delhi. “I make a lot of revenue at Kudumbasree melas. But the pandemic has put a stop to it,” she adds. Among the juices, the carrot, orange, beetroot, green chilly, lemon mixture — a sour and sweet combo named ‘Kakkanad Neeli’ — is one of her specialities.

Embracing her identity

Amrita came out as a transwoman through a Malayalam television program. This was followed by neglect and abuse from her family and friends. Her mother had to bear the brunt too. “My mother found out through the show too. Though I had long hair and used to wear a saree, my mother thought I was dressing up for the performances. She found it hard to accept me in the beginning, but now she is welcoming of the trans community. We live with members of the community. She considers all of them her kids. My mother is my pillar of strength,” says Amritha. 

To date, Amritha faces discrimination from many. “I wish they would educate themselves rather than ridicule me. It is not right to categorise people based on their gender,” she says. Amritha, who overcame many odds, wishes to inspire the coming generation and leave her mark in this world.

“I also aspire to expand the venture and include more trans people in it,” she says. Amritha runs the project under the government initiative swayam tozhil and packaging machines using its benefits.

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