A job at Samsung factory changes lives for 8 transgenders

Transgender workers are having chit-chat during a break at the manufacturing plant of Samsung Fair Electronics in Narsingdi.
Prothom Alo

Achintya Kumar's other name is Abantika Bagchi. Roman Molla is known as “Sundari Romana”. Similarly, each of them has two names and identities. In their words, “My body is in a male cage, my mind is a female soul, how will I separate these two entities in the same body?”

A total of eight transgender people, including Achintya Kumar and Roman Molla, now work for Samsung Fair Electronics in Narsingdi. Some are in charge of security at the main gates, some are assisting in office work, some are cooking in the canteen and some are in housekeeping. In their masks, shirts and trousers, they don't look different from any of the others. They do not want anyone to look different either. They are trying to distance themselves from the stereotypes that the transgender community fall into -- wearing saris, the typical clapping and dancing to celebrate the birth of a child, acting the 'guruma' (the leaders of a transgender group) and so on.

This correspondent spoke to these people on 10 October at the Fair Electronics factory. Although the management gave them the permission to talk with the correspondent, they continued their work in between the conversation.

They said this job has brought radical changes to their lives. On one hand this job had given them dignity and respect. Yet on the other, they were also castigated for breaking away from their groups.

South Korean company Samsung is No. 1 in the world in terms of mobile phone sales. Fair Electronics has set up a mobile assembling factory with the technical support of Samsung. The factory was inaugurated in 2018 and located on 55 bighas of land. Apart from mobile phones, the factory is manufacturing fridges, televisions, air conditioners and microwave ovens.

A total of 1,860 workers are working in the hi-tech manufacturing plant of Fair Electronics. Of them, 750 are women. And eight transgender persons are now working there too.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Brigadier General (retired) Md Akramul Haque, chief operating officer of the Fair Electronics, said these eight transgender people have been working at different sections of the factory, including the canteen, office and housekeeping for more than a month. The company will gradually engage them in various other productive work. Besides, they have a plan to increase the number of transgender employees to 100, he added.

The transgender workers of the factory said the non-government organisation Bandhu Social Welfare Society arranged these jobs at the company for them. They want to use this chance to change their lives.

The government proposed special tax exemption to companies that appointed transgender persons in the budget of 2021-22 fiscal on 3 June.

During the budget session, finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said, "I propose to a the addition of a provision in the law to provide tax rebate amounting to 75 per cent of the total salary paid to the workers from the third gender or 5 per cent of payable tax, whichever is lower, to the employers who will employ 10 per cent of their total workforce or more than 100 workers from the members of the third gender."

Five transgender workers pose for a picture in front of the manufacturing plant of Samsung Fair Electronics in Narsingdi.
Prothom Alo

The finance minister also hoped that engaging this workforce in productive activity would ensure social inclusion.

The Bandhu Social Welfare Society has been working for the development of the transgender community since 1996. Saleh Ahmed, the chief executive officer of the organisation, told Prothom Alo that Samsung Fair Electronics is first large company to appoint eight transgender people after the government declared the tax rebate on appointing transgender people. The recruitment of eight transgender people proves that when the government has any initiative or declaration, non-government organisations come forward, and the work becomes faster and effective. Some 10 more transgender people are to be recruited in the company’s Dhaka office.

Following the requirements, Bandhu Social Welfare Society arranged gender training workshops for the other workers of the factory.

Saleh Ahmed said it is still a big challenge for a large company to recruit transgender people. He said more money needs to be spent on house rent and everything for transgender people. Transgenders still face challenges in spite of having a regular income. However, once the process starts, initiative will be taken to solve other problems gradually.

Achintya Kumar, a final year BBA student at Narsingdi Government College, is an office assistant at the CEO’s office of the Fair Electronics. The offspring of a farmer, Achintya now sees herself a girl. “Previously, I had three sisters. I am the fourth sister now,” said a smiling Achintya Kumar.

Achintya Kumar secured GPA-5 in SSC and HSC examinations and still performs well in the study. Like others, Achintya has a 'guruma' and also danced at events to celebrate the birth of children. “At first, I was confused. I was afraid whether people would interact with us freely or abuse us. No one wants to accept us easily. But things are different here. Everyone behaves very well with me and the others.”

Roman Molla, an honours student of Narsingdi Government College, has been living separately from the family for 10 years as the family did not accept the transgender identity. In fact, Roman Molla's sister's marriage broke up when he went home once. The transgender person had a housekeeping job at the parliament for one and a half years. Roman Molla even spent Tk 1.1 million (11 lakh) and went to Saudi Arabia, only to return home after 11 months. “If there is dignity, of course we can work,” Roman Molla said.

Abdullah Al Mamun, a Master's student, works as an admin assistant. “When I tell people that I work at Samsung, they respect me,” Abdullah Al Mamun said.

Delwar Hossain is doing Master's in political science and has a housekeeping job. Previously, Delwar Hossain had worked at Bandhu Social Welfare Society for six years. The transgender person lives separately from the family. Delwar Hossain showed an identity (ID) card for person with disability provided by the social services department. “We are seen as persons with gender-disabilities to the society. Many of us are identified as oppressors and people quickly give us Tk 10-20 in the streets out of fear. But we too need food to eat, clothes to wear and houses to live,” Delwar Hossain lamented.

Muniruzzaman, who studied till higher secondary, is a cook at the canteen of the Fair Electronics. Tanvir Miah, who completed Master of Arts, also works at the canteen.

Six out of eight transgender people work under factory admin Nipa Azad at Fair Electronics. “Transgender people, who work here, share their tale tragedy, if people behave well with them. We all work together. Since the transgender people got the jobs, their daily routine has been a bit disrupted. They have to work from 8:00am to 5:00pm and undergo various trainings. Other workers have also been warned that anyone who misbehaves with the transgender workers will lose the job. So far, our experience has been very good,” Nipa Azad said.

The transgender workers said 12 of them got the job. Several of them stopped coming after joining the job as they could not maintain the rules. One of the eight transgender workers is still irregular. They receive a salary of Tk 8,000 during apprenticeship. It will increase later. Since their living cost is relatively higher than that of other people, if the factory authorities take the matter into consideration, it will be easier for them to remain in their jobs, the transgender workers observed.

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu and Hasanul Banna