How Transwoman Priyanka Sharma Began A Blended Tea Brand Connecting Mitr

Priyanka Sharma runs her business of blended teas from a Garima Greh in Delhi, which are set up by the govt to support trans persons.

Priyanka Sharma, a trans woman from Assam, overcame the obstacles and achieved her dream of starting her own business.

Currently residing in Delhi’s Garima Greh – a shelter home for transgender persons, Sharma reveals her passion for tea blending started in her childhood. She recalls an incident when her father requested tea without milk and she accidentally dropped pieces of peda into it. Surprisingly, her father enjoyed the unique flavour, inspiring her idea of blended tea.

Priyanka Sharma – preparing an order for her blended tea (Photo by Ishita Roy)

Having grown up in Assam, surrounded by tea gardens, Sharma developed a refined taste for high-quality tea and honed her skills in blending tea. Despite creating 250 tea blends in Assam, she was unable to start her own business due to the financial crunch and her gender identity.

She shares the difficulties she encountered after revealing her gender identity to her family, who failed to understand her situation. Instead, they forced her into a marriage with a woman, hoping it would “correct” her. The forced marriage only intensified her sense of suffocation, leading to the toughest period of her life, as she recalls, “I used to cry a lot because I had no option. Nobody would understand me.”

Taking charge of her own life

Sharma soon realized that she could not continue living like this and had to do something about this situation. She got in touch with a trans friend of hers, who told her about Delhi’s Garima Greh. “I told my family that I am going to attend a wedding nearby. I did not tell them that I am leaving for Delhi. That is how I made it here,” she says.

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Declaration by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment of SMILE scheme (Photo by Anshuman Bajpai)

In 2021, the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment launched 13 pilot shelter homes called Garima Greh for transgender persons. Despite the pandemic affecting one home in Manipur, the remaining 12 were successfully established in 9 states, including in Delhi. These shelter homes were established under the SMILE (Support for Marginalized Individuals for Livelihood and Enterprise) Scheme, in line with The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019. As part of the SMILE scheme, Garima Grehs provides skill-based training and sustainable employment courses.

Delhi’s Garima Greh is overlooked by Mitr Trust – a community-based organization, led by Rudrani Chhetri.

Starting her own business – one step at a time

Sharma too benefitted from entrepreneurial training provided by Connecting Dreams Foundation (CDF) – a non-profit organization whose focus on empowering individuals thorough entrepreneurial action aligned with Sharma’s aspirations.

Sharma shares that in Garima Greh, she was asked to work on her resume, however, she refused, because she never wanted a job, she wanted to start her own business. Attending the online entrepreneurial training by CDF helped her dreams come true.

During one of the sessions, Aromica Tea, a Guwahati-based company caught Sharma’s attention. “I quickly saved their contact number, because I knew I can contact them for my business,” says Sharma.

Sharma’s will and perseverance won her a seed fund of Rs. 50,000 to kickstart her venture. “Out of sixty enrolled students, only twelve were selected and I was one of those twelve,” she shares with excitement.

Different Tea Blends created by Priyanka Sharma (Photo by Ishita Roy)

With this, she started her entrepreneurial journey.

Sharma operates her business through Instagram. “Sometimes I use my dead name to carry on business with my previously established contacts from Assam. They do not know that I am living as a transwoman in Delhi…and I cannot afford to ruin ties with them.”

She also shared that while dealing with vendors other than Aromica Tea, who address her as “sir” during phone calls, she assumes her dead name and pretends as an employee handling enquiries on behalf of “Priyanka ma’am.”

Connecting Mitr – Priyanka’s dream coming true

Packaged product Connecting Mitr Blended Tea (Photo by Ishita Roy)

Sharma named her business after the two organisations that supported her to become a businesswoman. “I named my business after the CDF – the NGO that supported my dreams and Mitr Trust that helped me find my true identity when I had nowhere to live,” she says.

Although Sharma’s business is still at the infant stage as it has only been a month since its inception, she has already sold blended tea worth Rs. 30,000. She also formed a partnership with a friend who sells Waffle Cups. “It is a great combination with tea – you can pour the tea in it, drink it and then eat the cup too.”

Sharma also shares that she has submitted her application to get her business registered, however, she is worried that the process may take longer than expected because of her gender identity.

What is next in her journey?

Sharma had to overcome many battles in her life to reach where she is right now. Though she has successfully established her business from Garima Greh, the fear of losing the place looms over her.

SMILE scheme allocated a total of Rs. 365 crores over a five-year period, providing each Garima Greh with an annual grant of Rs. 36,46,500. However, the central government has not released the funds since March 2022, consequently, several Garima Greh are at the brink of closure.

“I cannot think of this [Garima Greh] shutting down. If it shuts down, we will be back to where we were. Hum dobara ghut ghut kar jiyenge (we will again live in lurch),” she sighs, fearing the closure of Delhi’s Garima Greh.

Connecting Mitr Blended Tea Packages (Photo by Ishita Roy)

Despite the looming fear, Sharma has big dreams and wishes to help more community members to start their own businesses or provide jobs in her blended tea business.

To shop for Priyanka Sharma’s blended tea, you can check out the business page on Instagram @connectingmitr.

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About the Author

Ishita Roy

Ishita is based in Delhi and is a student of History and Journalism. She covers stories on law, gender and heritage. read more...

7 Posts | 6,594 Views

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