Published: 29th June 2021
Meet Mumbai's Zoya, the first trans photojournalist who is still struggling to find her way in life
Even after being featured in a hoard of newspapers and websites, Zoya still has to beg to sustain herself. What's the use of this fame, she asked
Zoya Thomas Lobo's life changed when she stumbled upon a documentary film of trans individuals on YouTube. The Mumbaikar had finally found her life's calling — photography. It's been almost three years since that day in 2018 and Zoya is now a freelance photojournalist and the first transwoman to break into that bastion.
But not much has changed in this 27-year-old's life. Even after being featured in a hoard of newspapers and websites, Zoya still has to literally beg to sustain herself. She simultaneously manages a career in photojournalism but hasn't been offered a job yet. Her photographs have made it to the pages of renowned dailies like the Hindustan Times and the Times of India but she is yet to find permanent employment in the field. "Nothing has changed. It is still the same. Due to the pandemic, there has been a lull in the job market. I am waiting for freelance work or even an internship. Any kind of opportunity would be of great help. Otherwise, I am back to square one and all this fame and people writing about me and talking about my talent would be of no use. I still have to go to shops to collect alms to sustain myself," said Zoya.
Zoya had dropped out of a school in Class 5 and realised she wasn't like the other boys when she was just 11. She embraced her sexuality a few years later and had been begging on Mumbai's local trains for a while after. After she watched a film on trans individuals — Hijra Shap ki Vardaan (Transgenders, a boon or a bane) — she pointed out a few discrepancies in the film. "The director, Vikas Mahajan, asked me to join the sequel and I did. He also called me for an award function and asked me to speak about my experience. I was also awarded the Best Actress and Human Being Award there," recalled Zoya. "That's where I met Shrinath Singh, who is the editor of an uber local news outlet. He called me to his office and appointed me as a photojournalist. Now, I had a press card but had no idea what to do or how to get stories," she added.
One day, on her way to the office after covering the Ganpati immersion, Zoya realised that it is not practical to go to the office every time there is news that she wants to cover. "I had some money saved and with that, I bought a second-hand camera — Nikon D5100 — from a market neat Victoria Terminus," said Zoya.
She got recognition when she shot photos of the migrant labourers' protest in Bandra in April 2020. "I was the only one who had those photos and these were taken by agencies, newspapers like HT, TOI, Lokmat, Mumbai Mirror and few more publications. This is when I got some recognition, at least among the photographers in Mumbai," she added.
Zoya's photos have also made it to a Canadian magazine — Québec Science — in a story about how sexual minorities are dealing with the pandemic. But she is yet to find permanent employment here. "When we beg you ask us to find some work. When we try to use our talents you do not give us jobs. Then where do we stand?" asked Zoya, who wants to complete her education but wants a gender inclusive education system first. She has endured enough discrimination for a lifetime, she tells us starkly.
Not a pretty picture, is it?