The fear of ‘being taken advantage of’ has led 28-year-old Sita to pretend to be Sitaram for almost a decade in Delhi.In a nondescript market in South Delhi, she works as a fruit vendor, which means she is constantly in the public glare for at least 12 hours a day as people waltz in and around her kiosk. Occasionally, they stop by to buy fruits.We have already begun speaking. A few minutes into the interview, a well-built man with a handlebar moustache interrupts us, “Bhaiyya, ye seb kitne ke diye? (Brother, what is the price of the apples?).” Sita, going as Sitaram, has nailed the charade. She gets up from her stool smoothly, pulls up her left collar and answers the man with a heavy accent.As they speak, this reporter observes that Sita has aced the role of Sitaram. She refers to herself as a boy without mistake, wears loose T-shirts and pants to hide her curves, her hair is cut like a boy's, and she wears no jewellery whatsoever. She has practised her mannerisms long enough now for her to be mistaken for a man.But why did she feel the need to hide her gender?“First, I lost my father when I was 12. Then, my youngest brother who was three months old, passed away – and 10 years ago, I lost my 15-year-old brother to an electric shock. Who was left behind? Five sisters and my mother with no one to help,” Sita narrates these details with almost clinical detachment. She recalls how the family of surviving girls was often treated.Ladkiyo ka log fayeda uthate hain. (Fal ka) daam nahi dete, dhang se baat nahi karte. (Girls are taken advantage of. They are not given the correct prices for fruits or other merchandise or spoken to properly.)While everyone was trying to do their bit to keep the house running, Sita decided to step into that unspoken void. She began to behave and dress like a man. She also started to introduce herself as Sitaram. The family, however, never sat down and discussed what Sita wanted to do. It was as if they'd sensed that a 'Sitaram' at home would help, and their silence allowed the act to continue.“My sisters, my relatives didn’t say anything to me. They might have understood the need of the hour," she says accepting the reality she chose for herself.It was at this time that her mother began to experience pain in her joints. “My mother and I decided to sell fruits instead of continuing my father's work of selling vegetables as you only have to visit the mandi once a week,” she says matter-of-factly. Cutting down visits to the mandi helps them save money. The family makes about Rs 1,000 every week, which sustains her three sisters and mother with some difficulty.When this reporter asked Sita if she missed draping sarees or talking to her girlfriends, she said:I don’t have any friends. I am nice to whoever is nice to me but I don’t talk to anyone and no one talks to me. I helped my elder sister get married one-and-a-half-years ago; she is happy. I want all of them to get married soon. I feel no urge to be a woman, it’s as simple as that.It is a fact that women’s safety is a legitimate concern in India, and more so in Delhi which has statistically overtaken all other states to earn a shameful reputation. The latest National Crime Records Bureau 2016 data state that every one in three crimes against women takes place in the capital.Stories like Sita’s magnify the lived reality of half the Indian population. Her transformation was forced by the compulsions of her reality. The gender that Sita was assigned at birth is no longer an intrinsic part of her identity – she has let it be subsumed by the overpowering need to be her family's breadwinner.Towards the end of the interview, this reporter asks, “Would you ever want a family of your own? And if you do, would you want to go back to being Sita?"Sita, who till now had remained unfazed, looks uncomfortable for the first time. “I have not thought about it yet. I can't say,” she says, looking away at the traffic as if to escape her own thoughts.After a few seconds, she says, “You are right, I do want a family and my own kids. Right now though, I need to take care of my sisters.” Sita gets up, this time more gracefully, forgetting about the glare of the world on her for a few fleeting seconds, signalling to this reporter that it is time she leave. We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.