All About Our Famila

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All About My Famila, a documentary made by the filmmaker Chalam Bennurakar, was an exploration of the life and activism of the Bengaluru-based hijra activist Famila. The film released in 2012 showcased the ideologies of Famila predominately through the eyes of people who were close to her, A. Revathi, Rumi Harish (credited as Sumathi) and B.N. Sharada.

Famila was a radical feminist who identified as a Hijra, bisexual and a sex worker. Born in 1980, she died by suicide in 2004 when she was 24. Based in Bangalore, she was well-known for her straightforward and radical articulation of the struggle of marginalized sexualities and genders. She was really active in queer politics and, as a board member of Sangama, an organisation working on the human rights of sexual minorities, questioned various forms of feudalist patriarchal systems in and outside the community.

Rumi talks about the struggles she went through as a transgender woman, and A. Revathi, a transgender activist and a hijra herself, was one of the first people to come to her rescue. He mentions an incident where he was with Famila, she showed her a photograph of her younger self, as a man, and was very unapologetic about it. When asked by Rumi, “others refuse and hide all these things, and you are like showing it to me openly,” a confident Famila replied, “There is nothing in it, I was like that and I prefer to be like this, so I changed… I don’t want to hide anything to the outside world!” Her ideologies were often called progressive thinking, and this situation was one of many from the memories of people she knew that showed us the radical person that Famila was.

She also broke the rules of the hijra system. A typical hijra back then had to be a part of a hammam, live there with an assigned Guru, and choose castration. Breaking that tradition, Famila along with her friends, Mayuri and Ritu, went for castration with a Guru. The Hijra community was quite shaken, and most of the gurus refused to accept them, taking them in as their chelas. It was then that Revathi agreed to be her Guru and took care of them during the initial days after the medical procedure. 

Revathi spoke at length, about the many traditions that Famila broke. Most of the Hijras are known to wear sarees only, but she wore chudidars, jeans, and tee shirts. Many things that were problematic in the community, Revathi sensed how wrong they were. She says Famila had the skill to confront these problems. Famila was only very vocal about being a sex worker. In many things, she says, Famila is her role model, whether it is about wearing “modern” attire like chudidar, jeans, or being unashamed about her sex work.Sharada was a co-founder of Sangma and spoke about her experiences with Famila in the documentary. The space predominantly worked for non-english speaking sexual and gender minorities. Over the years of knowing Famila, Sharada says she saw the potential Famila had and had recommended her for a National Conference on Human Rights in Panchagani through Sangama. Sharada says that while at the conference, she made a lot of friends and made quite an outstanding impression on the people there. She added, “She made a striking statement. We are calling ourselves LGBT community; I am part of you yet I am not a part of you.”

Due to a disagreement about her sex work, she quit working at Sangma and took up sex work full time. Her lifestyle changed and she could not get involved in the causes that she wanted to, feminist causes and other organisations that work on women’s issues. Rumi claims she felt claustrophobic and tired of the situation she got into and how society has not given her the space she truly deserves. Rumi spoke about the struggles in the gender and sexuality movement, the survival and mental health issues that go unspoken and the suffering people involved face.

The documentary powerfully portrays the life Famila lived and how impactful it has been in the people around her and also the movement itself. It also raises a lot of questions about the society, queer community the traditions and beliefs that we have.  The film is available to watch for free on PSBT India YouTube.

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