Identity in Conflict: Transsexualism in India

Posted on May 3, 2012 in Society

By Neelima Ravindran:

Most of us cannot fathom the situation where our body is not in harmony with our mental gender identity. But this is a harsh reality that 21-year-old Bidhan Barua has been living with all his life. And at last as he gets ready to bring an end to this trauma, to free the woman trapped inside him and marry the man he loves, he faces the biggest obstacle of all — his family, who are ashamed, embarrassed and opposed to his decision to alter his sex.

Gender identity is the psychological and social congruence one feels with his or her biological sex. Transsexualism is a gender identity disorder in which a person of a particular sex is convinced that he/she is a part of the opposite gender. Most often this starts at a very early age and their determination reinforced around puberty time. As in the case of Bidhan, who prefers to call himself Swati, says that from childhood he preferred to dress like girls, a reason for which his family would ill treat him. Later once he learnt of the gender reassignment surgeries, he took various odd jobs to raise money for the same. Once his psychological evaluation came out positive he ran away to Mumbai for the surgery. But his family found him and threatened the hospital against the procedure. Following the stalling of the operation by the hospital, Bidhan has filed a petition at the High Court pleading that his parents be restrained from preventing his liberation.

On one hand is a young man who feels the disconnect with his body and want to rectify that, on the other hand is his family from a small town who doesn’t understand or refuse to accept the truth about their child. The loved ones should be made to realize that gender dysphoria is not an abnormality but a condition that requires compassionate treatment and support. The choice of an adult should be respected and though it would always be better for the family to be taken into confidence, they have no right to deny him something that he wants to. Counselling should be provided to both the family and individuals. Discrimination and negative attitudes mounts the miseries of both the parties involved.

The society should be in sync with the sexual realities of the country. It was following the case of Tista, who went public after undergoing a gender reassignment surgery, that the country woke up to the misconceptions about transsexuality that existed and she provoked an agitation regarding the rights of transsexuals in the country. But it is a long and tedious road ahead for the proponents of transsexual rights to change the mind-set of a community known for the ostracism of transsexuals. They are usually stereotyped and looked down upon, and not treated with respect and dignity that they rightly deserve. The issue requires empathy of the people and they should be accepted legally, socially and emotionally. Indian laws pertaining to marriage, adoption, succession, housing, labour etc. will require new legislations to make the modifications while dealing with the rights of transsexual individuals. Once the country legally acknowledges them it would be easier for the society to socially accept them and family to emotionally understand them.

Indian mythology has various references to altered sexual status, be it the warrior prince Arjuna spending a year as Brihandala, or Shikandi, the shield who killed Bhishma. Over the years, as society evolved, the transsexual phenomenon became a bitter truth that we turned a blind eye to. Bidhan Barua has left his fate at the hands of law. But it can be a spark of thought to our understanding and acceptance of the matter as individuals, guardians and society as a whole.