Chhandak Pradhan  |  LIPSTICK MEN

In patriarchal Indian society, being a kothi (an Indian term for effeminate or transsexual man) is still a matter of shame. The social stigma is a serious barrier to joining mainstream occupations. To earn a living, some kothis become launda (drag) dancers. For poor families from the interiors of UP and Bihar looking for a grand wedding, boys in drag become a cheap substitute for dancing girls. After the marriage ceremony the laundas dance through the night. They soon get used to being cut, bitten and burnt with cigarettes. And while most laundas make extra money selling sex, too often they end up brutalized and gang raped. Resisting sex with groups of men can even result in death. While abuse is rampant, awareness is minimal. Few people care about laundas. Even their parikh (men perceived to be heterosexuals whom the laundas call their boyfriends) shun them during the day. Charities and government projects tend to focus on girls and young women. Added to that is the threat of disease. India has the world's largest HIV caseload with an estimated 5.7 million sufferers and the dancers are a high-risk group.

– Chhandak Pradhan, 2011


Chhandak Pradhan is an editorial photographer and freelance journalist based in Kolkata, India. He started his career as a reporter at 22. Few chance encounters and internships later, Chhandak now specializes in conceptualising content for editorial projects, still and motion picture shoots, multimedia journalism along with writing features and interviews. He is part of Babel Images- an international collective of documentary photographers and has worked with British Council, Deutsche Bank, Stop TB, Save The Children, etc on various projects.