Photojournalist Jennifer CARLOS is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography.  From the project ‘Daughters of God’To see Jennifer’s body of work, click on any image.


March 31st, 2022

The International Transgender Day of Visibility


Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry – December 2021
The private hospital Mahatma Gandhi in Pondicherry comprises a clinic specialized in gender confirming surgery that recorded more than 500 patients from 16 different Indian states and carried out more than 300 surgical interventions.


Daughters of God
Six months with transgender communities of South India
Photo coverage from September 2021 to March 2022


Pondicherry – October 2021
Savitha, 30 years old, never managed to find work despite her degree as a medical laboratory technician. “Even if you don’t work, you’re pretty, so if you satisfy my needs, that will be enough”, the boss of a laboratory said to her during an interview. She has been begging every day in the streets of Pondicherry since she was 18. She makes “around 300 to 500 rupees a day” (3 to 5 pounds).


Savitha, Sangeena, Sathana, Geetha, Rossi,Marthula, Srija and Pappima are part of the transgender community of Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu: the Thirunangais — “daughters of God” in Tamil. In the south of India, this is how they are referred to, in reference to Bahuchara Mata, the Goddess of fertility and chastity, of whom they are the descendants, according to the Hindu tradition.

The Thirunagais who were wrongly assigned to the masculine gender at birth, called “Hijras” in the north of the country.


Tamil Nadu – February 2022
About twenty Thirunangais live together in this brothel on the outskirts of Pondicherry.


As a French photojournalist of Indian origin, I have always been fascinated, since I was a child, by the beauty and courage of the people of this community, who manage to exist in one of the most patriarchal and conservative societies of the world. In September 2021, I decided to go meet them, and immersed myself within their community for six months, to bear witness of these marginalized lives.

In 2014, India recognized transgender as the third gender in Indian law, before decriminalizing homosexuality four years later — a sign of changing times, even more so as several transgender and intersex popular public figures like models or influencers had recently hit foreign press headlines.

But these exceptional career paths are indeed exceptions as they are often the prerogative of society’s most privileged social classes, and far away from the daily existence of the Tirunangais who offer sexual services in the streets of Pondicherry.


Tamil Nadu, Ariyankuppam – November 2021
Savitha (on the left) and her mother Amahi (53 years old). Her mother threw her out when she was 11 years old, but asked her to come back when she was 19, after learning that she had transitioned and had become a sex worker


Tamil Nadu, Cuddalore – February 2021
Srija receives a client who comes to see her in her room “twice to three times a month”.


Tamil Nadu, Ariyankuppam – November 2021
Savitha dreams of changing her life and ceasing to be a sex worker. “My greatest wish is for people to stop being afraid of transgender persons. After all, I was a man and I am now a woman, so I can understand both, I have feelings too. I wish we would stop being seen as mentally ill or compared to animals just because our gender doesn’t correspond to the norm here. I want people to understand that we are persons who aspire to live their lives and be independent just like everyone else.


Rejected by their own families, mutilated, battered, raped, excluded from the labor market, Savitha, Sangeena, Sathana, Geetha, Rossi,Marthula, Srija and Pappima survive on begging, prostitution and the strong links of solidarity that unite their community. A community that holds a paradoxical position in the south of India: feared and revered, celebrated by the Hindu religion which ascribes to them powers of blessing, healing, and fertility, while still being rejected and denigrated by society.


Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry – October 2021
Geetha, 35 years old, finally shows up dressed as a woman during the Nirvan ritual. The “Nirvan ritual” is one of the most important rituals in the life of a Thirunangai. Hindu Thirunangais say that when people are born with a feminine soul in a masculine body, the goddess Bahuchara visits them in their dreams and asks them to emasculate themselves and become a Thirunangai. If they don’t, they will keep being born this way for their next 7 lives. Before her vaginoplasty, she endured a forced marriage, had a wife and a son.


Tamil Nadu, Ariyankuppam – December 2021
One month after having escaped her family home, Marthula dares to show her face on the beach of Ariyankuppam, in the southern outskirts of Pondicherry. Here, she is dressed as Ardhanarishvara, an androgynous divinity that unites Shiva (on the right side) and Parvati (on the left side) within one single body. This image symbolizes the ambivalence of the divine nature: both feminine and masculine, neither male nor female, at the origin of all things, transcending gender distinctions.


Tamil Nadu, Cuddalore – February 2022
Aged 27, Rossi looks for clients along the Semmandalam Kurinjipadi road. Prostitution is illegal, but there is police corruption, which manifests in various ways for sex workers here, such as through bribes or sexual services.


These women accepted to let me photograph them every day, between rites of passage, prostitution, begging, and hopes for a better life.


All images and text © Jennifer CARLOS



See also:

The dream of football, Senegal

By Jennifer CARLOS





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