SRINAGAR: Overshadowed by the decades old conflict, trans Kashmiris belong to an extremely vulnerable section of society. Pushed to the margins of the public they are often forced to hide and protect their identity. They have been steadily silenced in the history of Jammu and Kashmir. And are still denied public employment despite being well educated, pushing them to the brink.

Coming from a group of people facing humiliation and violence from male dominant society, 21 year old Manu Bebo in Srinagar is breaking stereotypes in society and providing employment to other trans people as well. Manu is a self-taught makeup artist who is generating new hope among people in the valley.

Manu Bebo uses her Instagram handle where brides and women from different parts of Kashmir contact her for makeup bookings before marriage occasions or any festival. To uplift and support her community, Manu has employed several trans people in her business which is flourishing with every passing day.

Initially, Manu felt helpless when people refused to rent out their shops for her makeup business, but now she is getting huge respect and orders from the public. So much so that she is unable to meet the market demands.

“It was challenging for me to grow up as a minority gender in a conventional family and culture,” she tells the Citizen.

She recalls that she realised she had the atma (essence or soul) of a female when she was in the seventh standard. “Many people made fun of me for dressing up as a girl. I was loathed by everyone, it affected me in many ways.”

She was always interested in pursuing the makeup profession, and says her ultimate wish is to be an unprecedented example for trans women and to encourage them to lead their own way.

“In Kashmir, trans people are even ignored by their own families, and are not even allowed to rent accommodations. As human beings we should give respect to all,” says renowned social activist Nazir Ahmed.

“When you look at her Instagram account, you will find that she has numerous creative and cosmetic ideas that have gained a lot of attention. Her smokey eyes style, in particular, has garnered 25,137 likes, unlike other makeup artists,” says Nazir.

Manu was born to a middle-class family in Nawakadal, downtown Srinagar. Apart from friends and relatives, strangers would stare at her, and on and off she was criticized and mocked, and taunted.

She didn’t have a choice. Because she felt like a female, she began to act like one. Her parents were incensed. So she took a few steps away from them. Her actions strange, Manu was the family’s lone child who wasn’t invited to family weddings. However, as she discovered, she refused to hide her gender identity.

She says that some people judge young people based on their gender identity, because they have made it part of their development. Meanwhile, “It’s important to never give up, difficulties are part of life. Believe in Allah and trust your gut instincts. God will constantly keep an eye on you.”

Trans Kashmiris often earn either by traditional singing and dancing at marriage celebrations or by working as matchmakers.

“However, things have gone and changed. These are no longer suitable livelihood means. The arranged marriage concept is fading in our society now. In times of digitization, most people prefer to go for love marriages, leaving traditional matchmakers with no option,” shares a 34 year old trans person who did not wish to be named. “Many trans people are without any job. But Manu is a new hope to all.”

According to Manu, “I acquire the best beauty items to provide the best to my clientele. I aspire to be a well-known makeup artist.” She confides that some of her makeup sessions have been cancelled due to some families’ refusal to accept her gender identity.

As she announces herself freely on her Instagram account, thousands of Instagram users watch her beauty lessons on a regular basis, and she is getting encouraging feedback and comments.

Manu started her endeavour four years ago and says she has made a name for herself in Kashmir as a result of her commitment and hard work. “I have interest in makeup, so why isn't it acceptable when someone has the chance to start their career with such passion?” she asks.

And her advice to others, “Speak and write.”

Professor Ajaz Bandh, who works for the rights of the transgender community in J&K, says the lives of trans people have been badly hit by the negative mindset of society.

“From birth to death, they crave for love and affection that is being denied to them in every aspect of life. When they get older, they become a liability for everyone. I have studied extensively a number of case studies, wherein I have seen transgender people suffering like stray animals,” says the professor.

“Years ago a 90 year old trans man was going through Alzheimer’s dementia. He was lying on the road near the UN office in Srinagar for about 20 days in bone-chilling winter. He had been abandoned. On humanitarian grounds we lifted him and reached the hospital. Where they refused to admit him," Ajaz recalls.

Manu, despite knowing the challenges and hurdles of a patriarchal society, remains steadfast in creating a way for other transgenders as well.

Once she had a financial crunch and was unable to give her financial contribution to her family. Her father Muhammad Amin is an architect, while her mother is a housewife. Manu explains, “Having financial security implies that others allow you to life on your terms.”

She says that she has figured out how to deal with her pain. She decided to be so successful that adversity would not deter her. She vowed to achieve such great success that negative comments would have no bearing on her personal or professional life.

Manu is deeply committed to helping the transgender community. “Never lose hope,” she says. “Have faith in God, She will always take care of you.”