Train beggar to an acclaimed transgender photojournalist: Touching story of Zoya Thombs Loboo — who is still forced to survive on alms

Photo source: Instagram of Zoya

Tauseef Ahmad,

Mumbai: “Every cloud has a silver lining”, as the saying goes, a 20-minute delay in train arrival changed the life of Zoya Thombs Lobo — a transgender person who used to earn a living by asking for alms in local trains of Mumbai.

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The third gender, who uses she as her pronoun, after coming to know about the train delay, pulled her cell phone out from her pocket and began watching on YouTube a documentary titled ‘Hijra Shap Ki Vardhan’ — which explored the lives of transgender community in India.

Zoya noticed a few loopholes in the documentary and left in the comment section her feedback, which unexpectedly grabbed the eyeballs of the movie’s director.

He responded to her comment and requested her to meet. Following an interaction on a coffee table, she was offered a role in the sequel of the documentary. Her contribution in the second part brought her significant recognition and accolades.

Zoya, while sharing her journey of life so far, said that she had a passion for photography. She used to do street photography and capture nature that she mostly learned with the help of Google and YouTube.

“I bought my first second-hand DSLR camera from the savings, which I had earned from begging in local trains,” she told

India’s first transgender photojournalist

Born and brought up in Mumbai, the city dreams, Zoya was raised in a Christian neighbourhood, where she learned English. She dropped out after fifth grade because of poverty.

“My journey as a photojournalist started after I performed in part two of the documentary. At the award ceremony, one of the editors noticed a photographer in me. He hired me as a photojournalist for his news agency,” she said.

While covering the pink rally of the Trans community — her first assignment, she met noted photojournalist Divyakant Solankani, who mentored and introduced her to the true essence of journalism.

Under his guidance, Zoya started seeing the world through her lens, which — more than just images — captures stories, struggles and triumphs as it is.

In 2019, her photos showing the plight of migrant workers during COVID-19 lockdowns brought her international acclaim and led to prestigious assignments and awards.

Struggle to Survive Still Continues

Despite earning the title of India’s first transgender photojournalist and international acclaim, her struggle to make ends meet continues. She still finds herself navigating the same hardships as she does not have any assignment. It has pushed her back to seek alms to local trains.

Photo Source: Instagram account of Zoya

“Nothing has changed. I have not got any assignments for months,” she told with visible signs of disappointment on her face.

With no support from her family and friends, Zoya said transgender persons in India continuously face discrimination, and it all starts with their families.

“We do not have equal opportunity in any field, be it education or jobs, which force us to beg in trains to earn livelihood. General elections are held in the country these days. No political leader cares to raise our voice. The government needs to think about this,” she added.

Reminding the society and polity that transgender persons too are human beings,” she concluded, “If God has no issues in creating us as we are, people should not have a problem with us.”