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.
Amruta 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.
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.