Anjali Lama sets foot on the Indian ground as the first Nepali transgender model to walk the ramp at an Indian fashion show hopes to inspire other victims of gender discrimination across conservative South Asia.
Anjali Lama, who was born a man in rural Nepal, was outcasted by family members after telling them twelve years ago that she wanted to live as a woman. She overcame abuse and prejudice to become the Himalayan country's first transgender model and is now preparing to debut the catwalk at Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai, India's premier fashion show, next month.
"Growing up in Nepal as a transgender was extremely difficult," Anjali, 32, told media in an email interview ahead of the fashion extravaganza, which runs from February 1 to February 5.
"In South Asian countries people still aren't that accepting, they treat it like an illness. The public looks at you differently and treats you in a different manner."
"One has to stay strong and reach out for their dreams," she added. Anjali was born Nabin Waiba to a family of poor farmers in remote Nuwakot in mountainous Nepal.
But she always knew that she had been born in the wrong body and in 2005 took the decision to dress as a woman for the first time. "I knew I couldn't feel like another person living in someone else's body. Hence, I was ready to face the cruel words that people threw at me," said the model.
"Most of the people, including my own brothers, weren't ready to accept me for who I was. I had to stay strong and believe in myself. My mother and sisters were the only ones who supported me throughout."
She underwent partial sex reassignment surgery in 2009 and her interest in modelling was piqued the following year when she was pictured on the front cover of a magazine featuring an article about transgender people.
Anjali found some acceptance in Kathmandu, where she moved to study, and later became an activist for an LGBT rights group called Blue Diamond Society.
She enrolled in modelling classes as she wanted to have a full-time career in the field, but initially found work hard to come by. "I was getting rejected because of my identity and that was extremely disheartening," said Anjali, who has established herself as a successful model in her native Nepal over the past couple of years.
In 2014 she featured in a documentary titled "Anjali: Living Inside Someone Else's Skin" in which she said she hoped to become completely female one day -- an operation that is financially out of reach for most Nepalis.
With the changing times people have become more acceptingAnjali Lama
In neighbouring India, "Hijras" have also long complained of discrimination and marginalisation. They are recognised as a third gender but are often shunned from society with some forced into begging or prostitution.
Anjali, who said it would be a "dream come true" to follow other transgender models onto major catwalks such as New York, Milan and Paris, hopes her luck at Lakme Fashion Week will make a difference in the battle for acceptance.
I do hope to be an inspiration for other transgender people. I’d like to tell them to always believe in themselves and to work towards their goalsAnjali Lama