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Is This Going To Be The Year For Trans Equality In India?

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By Shambhavi Saxena

There are those among us who still think trans and non-binary people have been sent by the Devil (or some variation thereupon) to test our virtue. There are those among us who will go so far as socially exclude individuals who don’t fit society’s ‘M’ and ‘F’ check boxes. We roll up our car windows when we see a Hijra at a stoplight, and we tell ourselves they’ve chosen to be where they are, chosen to beg, chosen to do sex work just to make ends meet. Too many of us believe the stereotypes we are fed, and we act like the custodial abuse of trans people is just business as usual. But despite all of this, glimmers of hope have surfaced in the recent past – and no, we don’t mean people gushing over Eddie Redmayne in ‘The Danish Girl’, significant as it may be.

A petition started in 2012 culminated in a landmark judgment two years later that legally recognized trans people in India – by including the ‘third gender’ option in “birth certificates, passports and driving licenses.” Problematic, yes, but surely a solid start. And this really set the tone for things to come. Towards the end of 2015, the state of Kerala presented its transgender policy to trans activist Akkai Padmashali. The policy is aimed at integrating trans people with mainstream society, by providing them the right to self-identification, educational security, and social and economic opportunities, and will address immediate and urgent concerns if implemented properly. But even with the legal system becoming more inclusive, and better aligned with the principle of justice for all, a tough challenge still remains. That is, the social stigma against trans people that has been allowed to coagulate decade after decade. Scholarship, case studies and non-profit work on Hijra, Kinnar, Aravani or other local trans groups has certainly been useful in approaching gender and social inequalities from a theoretical standpoint, but the issue of trans visibility seems to be 2016’s big agenda.

Barely into the first week of January, India’s first transgender music group, the 6 Pack Band, made their debut on Y Films’ YouTube channel, singing about their experiences to the tune of Pharrell’s terminally delightful single, ‘Happy’. Certain limitations aside, the music video and the band went viral across social media, with well over a million views, and a surge of positive, even encouraging comments. It recasts the figure of the trans person in a refreshing light, which is great, because Indian audiences have become comfortable seeing them as comic relief, objects of ridicule or shame, or ne’er-do-wells on the fringes of respectable society.

Similarly, noted trans activist Rudrani Chettri has initiated a crowdfunding campaign for another first – an Indian transgender modelling agency, which will reject the ‘ugliness’ cast onto trans women by a society that actively undermines their welfare.

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Image Courtesy: Rudrani Chettri/Facebook

Yet another first – and at this point there is rising excitement – is the announcement of an LGBT radio taxi service, which will select, train and enable trans individuals to get their All India Driver’s License, and “be eventual entrepreneurs.” Initiated by Wing Travels, in partnership with Mumbai-based LGBT+ rights NGO, Hamsafar Trust, it seems to be picking up on the need for economic opportunities, as per the aforementioned judgment.

“We want to ensure that the LGBT community in India enjoys the same rights and livelihood opportunities in India as their counterparts in the West,” said Wing Travels founder Arun Kharat.

It certainly seems like in the recent past our great democracy will at long last serve one of its most marginalized sections – many of whom, we must remember are not members of an urban elite queer movement, but on whom the multiple binds of caste, economic inequality, and the ‘minority religion’ label have meant an unbelievably hard life.

One is tempted to think recent developments have put us safely and firmly on a road to recovery – from this toxic, transphobic social framework – but there is work yet to be done. The Rights of Transgender People bill, which was introduced during Parliament’s winter session had some gaping problems. Human Rights Watch has noted the bill lacked a provision for self-identification as “the sole criterion for legal gender recognition without psychological, medical, or other ‘expert’ intervention,” among other things. And even though the Bill was publicly available on the Ministry of Social Justice’s website for anyone to view and make recommendations, this option was poorly publicized, resulting in the demand for an extension in deadlines. As Padmashali said, the government has a responsibility to “carry out effective consultations with the masses of the community instead of a selected set of representatives.”

Still, it’s good to see the government and civil society working in tandem on this sensitive and long-ignored issue. If 2016 isn’t already the year for trans equality in India, we must create the conditions to make sure that it is.

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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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