Transgender model Anjali Lama breaks through India fashion barrier

She was rejected for Lakmé Fashion Week last year but Nepali model gets her chance on the show’s Mumbai catwalk next month

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 3:40pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 3:40pm

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 ostracised, 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 February 1-5 in Mumbai.

“It wasn’t easy for me in the early days when there was so much rejection and discrimination,” said Lama, 32. “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.”

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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 modelling 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.”

Last year a pop band made up of six transgender women was included in a soundtrack for a Bollywood blockbuster. A song by 6 Pack Band features in the Salman Khan movie Sultan. Their other songs have also featured Bollywood stars and had millions of views on YouTube.

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.

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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.

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 organiser 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 of these issues and bringing them to the national consciousness,” he said.

Thomson Reuters Foundation