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Am I Included? Calling Them The ‘Third Gender’ Creates More Problems Than It Solves

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By Avilasha Ghosh

It was only as recent as 2014 that the Supreme Court of India legally recognized the transgender community as the “Third Gender”. Prior to the verdict, transgender people were treated as objects of ridicule, prejudice and humiliation who were not only denied their basic human rights but also not recognized as citizens of India. They are also a community negatively stereotyped as eking out a living from begging and commercial sex work.
However, with the increasing strength of queer politics, awareness about sexuality, and the recognition of the LGBTQIA community by law, it would seem that people have become more tolerant to the queer community as a whole.

transgender1
Recently, the appointment of a transgender principal, Manabi Bandyopadhyay to a government college in West Bengal and a transgender representative, Amruta Alpesh Soni as the advocacy officer for the states of Punjab, Haryana and Chhattisgarh for the National AIDS Control Project took the entire country by storm and was regarded to be the first step towards busting stereotypes and including the transgender community into the mainstream.

In India, Tamil Nadu has been the only state which has successfully pioneered transgender inclusion by introducing the transgender (aravani, as they are locally called) welfare policy. According to the policy, transgenders can access free Male-to-Female Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) in the Government Hospital, a free housing program, various citizenship documents, admission in government colleges with full scholarship for higher studies, and alternative sources of livelihood through formation of self-help groups and initiating income-generation programmes (IGP). It was also the first state to form a Transgender Welfare Board in 2008 with representatives from the transgender community. In March 2009, Tamil Nadu government set up a telephone helpline called Manasu for transgenders, an initiative which was responsible for the formation of India’s first helpline for the LGBTQIA community in 2011 at Madurai.

In April this year, Tiruchi Siva, a member of parliament moved the popular bill to ensure that the transgender commuity gets benefits similar to reserved communities like SC/STs. The bill was supported by all political parties in Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Indian Parliament), and will address enrolment in schools and jobs in the government, besides protection from sexual harassment.

The Chhattisgarh government is also making efforts to empower the transgender community by drafting an action plan for the welfare of around 3000 eunuchs in the state. The welfare plan aims to include Sex Reassignment Surgery as per the choice of the person concerned, along with development schemes to make them financially independent.

Joining these efforts, is the Tripura government which announced in July an allowance of Rs 500 per month to the transgender people in the state to ensure their financial independence.

The West Bengal government is not far behind. On October 1st, 2015 the government has requested the Kolkata Police to recruit transgenders in the Civic Police Volunteer Force (CPVF) to end the stigma and discrimination against the community.

While these development initiatives have made it possible for the disempowered and previously ‘ghettoised’ community to make their voices heard and to put forward their demands, the overall development of the community has been marginal and appears to be only on the surface.

But have these events and the removal of legal stigma countered the social stigma that has plagued this community for decades?

There are numerous flaws with the inclusion principle applied to the transgender community in India. Firstly, by providing recognition to a “third gender” in India which is supposed to include all communities which do not fall into the cisnormative structure, the Supreme Court has subsumed all sexualities under the rubric of a single term. It is important to distinguish transgender from transvestites, transsexuals from kotis and cross-dressers from hijras. Unless this demarcation is firmly established, the blurring of lines will create a gender binary of those who are gender conformists and those who are not.

Further, the nomenclature “third gender” is a problem in itself: it treats sexuality as a ladder-like structure in which the lowest rung is occupied by the queer community. Although it provides them with legal recognition, it does not alleviate them of their abject conditions as they continue to be a part of the marginalized section of society and are not considered equal to the rest of the Indian population.

While we may think that given the recent changes in the representation of trans people in media, politics and education, India has finally been able to successfully adopt the inclusion principle which was for a long time hoped for but not acted upon, it is also important to bring to attention the various ways in which it has been a failure. The appointment of a transgender principal to a government college or a transgender representative to politics in India can only be called a ‘part-time’ inclusion.

Being from a community that many are prejudiced against, these women (as they identify themselves) have proved to be exceptionally efficient in their respective fields which made it possible for them to climb the professional ladder. But does this mean that the whole transgender community has been adequately represented? Do the changes in the professional level permeate their social and private space as well? Does this newly acquired status emancipate them and their whole community from previously experienced ostracism? Do the development policies help mitigate the violence and the stigma that the community faces in their everyday lives?

To answer these questions one will need to critically engage with the problems which will only be successful if an in-depth study is conducted. Gender and sexuality are fluid concepts with multilayered aspects that need sensitive handling. This nuanced approach must go beyond the Indian bureaucratic system and enter the social and cultural domains to ensure that the inclusion is not partial but successful. Unless the basic demands of the transgender community as a whole are met, unless the stigmatizing and alienating forces are checked and unless the welfare policies reach out to all the people belonging to the community in question, inclusion cannot be achieved.

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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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