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Raped At 16 And Pushed Into Sex Work, How A Trans Woman Fought To Become A Govt. Officer

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By Jigna Kotecha:

The winter of 1996 shivered with her laments. She was raped at the age of 16. It was her uncle. For years, the fear of being beaten and raped lived inside her. It took a few seconds for her uncle to wear the face of that fear. She was different. Her lineaments made her look the very image of a man, but her soul was female. It took her almost a decade to come out of the closet.

“Our cultural ideals are that all people with penises are capable of perpetrating violence and without penises are susceptible to this violence. Transgender people were the easiest targets back then. No legal recognition, an unbothered society and emotionally unmoved family,” Amruta speaks about her ordeal.

TRANSGENDER WOMAN AMRUTAAmruta is a 34-year-old transgender woman. She has curly hair and a beautiful smile. Amruta is also the first Nodal Officer of the Migrant Workers Health Camp in Chhattisgarh.

She sits with her legs crossed at the ankle and speaks comfortably about her journey of becoming a human rights activist.

“My family indoctrinated me to believe that I was a boy. I went to school in boys’ uniform. Till the age of 10, I woke up almost every morning wishing to look like a girl. I was in a wrong body. From inside, I felt like a tender beautiful girl wanting to drape colorful saris, wear makeup and dance. But, I looked like a boy. More than that, my parents felt I was a boy. They were virgin to the idea of me being a transgender person. Neither could I openly express, nor was I understood.”

Transgender children are particularly marginalized and are often victims of silent treatment. It is like you purposely ignoring someone’s existence in society. A study shows that transgender children become aware about their identity at a very young age. The research conducted by Natacha Kennedy explains that transgender children experience social and cultural pressure that pushes them to conceal their identities.

The average age of transgender children to become aware of their identity is eight. At schools, these children are strictly recognized as either male or female, which subjects transgender children to gender dysphoria. It affects their mental health, behaviour and physical activity.

Fearing social ostracism, Amruta’s family sent her to Delhi in 1997. She lived with her uncle. For six months, she sang and played guitar at a famous hotel before the brooding Winter evening of Christmas when her uncle raped her. Her family rejected her accusations against her uncle. Her father threw her out of the home. She got on the first train she could find and went to Pune. She slept on a garden chair and washed utensils in a petty tea stall for a week before she was noticed by sex workers. She became a sex worker to earn and complete her higher education. After two years of this cycle, she enrolled in Jamia Milia Islamia University, Delhi, for graduation in Arts.

“In mid-90s, getting jobs in call centers was pretty easy. People used to think that I am gay. Working in a call centre came with many risks. I could grow a beard but not hide my femininity. I became a victim to workplace harassment. I was asked to barter my body for promotion. I started sex work again. Prostitution is not legal in India. Therefore, policemen felt free to nab and rape us. I was beaten and raped,” Amruta rues.

After Delhi, Pune was her next destination. She nursed the ambition of post graduation and enrolled for an MBA programme in Symbiosis Institute of Business Management as a transsexual woman. Every night, she powdered her face and painted her lips to dance in a local bar. “It was necessary. I had to pay Rs 4 lakh per year for my MBA. Transgender women are offered no decent jobs. Bars are liberal till you fetch them money. Bars don’t care if you are a woman or transgender. Boys in my college called me ‘Chakka’, ‘Mamu’, ‘Passive’ and ‘Bar Girl’.” Amruta adds.

Till April 2014, transgender people had no legal recognition in India. Even after MBA, Amruta was jobless. She begged on trains. One such train took her to Kolhapur.

In 2008, she joined Maitri Foundation as an outreach worker. She used to distribute condoms and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. “In between, I grew my hair — it was as if I was growing wings to my body. I underwent a sex reassignment surgery, implanted a uterus and breasts — and it was like giving sentiments to my suppressed soul,” she adds.

In 2012, she was diagnosed as HIV-Positive. Since then, she has been working for the rights of people living with HIV with Hindustan Latex Family Planning Promotion Trust (HLFPPT). On November 5, Chhattisgarh State AIDS Control Society (CSACS) appointed her as the first transgender woman nodal officer for their migrant workers health camp.

TRANSGENDER WOMAN AMRUTA-1

According to the India’s National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), HIV prevalence among transgender people is 20 times higher than the general population. National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) with the funding support from UNICEF awarded contract to Hindustan Latex Family Planning Promotion Trust (HLFPPT) for setting up the Technical Support Unit (TSU) for Chhattisgarh State AIDS Control Society (CGSACS).

India was in its wiser days back in 1297. Trans people in India were accorded respect in the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal courts. “The Last Spring: The Lives and Times of the Great Mughals”, a well-researched book by Abraham Eraly throws light on the life of Malik Kafur, a trans person who exercised great influence over Alauddin Khilji. Transgender people had a happy history. Today, transgender people face a harsh reality in a democracy like India.

If society works on a singular motto — subjugation of weaker by stronger, minority by majority — then should we not question it? We should believe in a strong, democratic society that embraces diversity and systematically respects the rights and dignity of all.

You must be to comment.
  1. sanidhya

    Nice article uncovering the real truth of Transgenders,

    Rare and Classical effort.

    Keep it up Jigna

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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