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Read This Powerful Open Letter By An Indian Trans Woman To The Chief Minister of Delhi

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Submitted anonymously:

Dear Mr. Kejriwal,

I have been living as a woman in Delhi for the past 5 years. Cisgender people often fail to understand what this might mean. To a transgender person who is looking (and quite often, almost dying) to transition, however, it means their lives.

Things have been difficult, to say the least. I might add that I hold a degree from a prestigious institute. A qualification that too many people in our country aspire for (they should have other options), and that too many employers seek. And yet I’ve been discriminated against by employers only because of my gender.

About six years ago, when I first came out to myself as a woman (I wish I could have come out sooner, but things weren’t exactly easy before either), I was confident that the people who were close to me would understand. That included family and friends. But, as it happened, I faced stiff resistance.

For my parents, it was difficult to even imagine that who they had thought so far as their son to be turning into someone who they thought to be as so much less. That they thought women were lesser than men was a concern in itself, but to them, then, the idea of me transitioning to be able to finally be comfortable with my body was completely incomprehensible.

My closest friends (friendships that spanned two decades), men, also left me after harassing me over my gender in ways that could and should be illegal. I was at a stage when I needed some support. Women friends – very old and very new, accepted me, often with much lesser resistance or cross-questioning (read harassment), and with their support, I carried on.

At that point, in 2011, I was working with a client as a design / tech consultant, I had only just started consulting and had started coming out and being comfortable with myself outside the confines of my small rented flat (which was an illegal construction in the parking space of the building and so had a very low ceiling). The clients were happy with my work and offered me a job. It seemed like everything I needed at that juncture – financial stability and a lot of things would fall into place in due course of time.

I went to their office in the metro that day, on the way thinking about how I could help them sensitize their team and how we could have good and engaging conversations around gender and ultimately an inclusive workplace. I was excited because things seemed within reach. We talked about roles and responsibilities, and then negotiated the salary, and everything seemed fine. They were a young, funded startup with co-founders from well-educated (read highly sought after) backgrounds, my salary was within their budget I was told then.

Then I came out to them. I actually came out to the person I was negotiating my salary with (who was a CXO there). He told me that he needed to talk about “this” to senior management and will inform me later. In about half an hour I was told that they would not be able to “afford it”. I was shattered because the costs they implied were what I would have called basic decency towards someone who is different from you, which should be a given anyway. Maybe I was a bit too doe-eyed then.

These people, you and I belong to the same network of prestigious institutes. I find it important to underline this because we often tend to conflate greater gender sensitivity and inclusion with education. They discriminated against me on the basis of my gender. They violated my right to equality. That, when they had offered me the job themselves!

And everyone who heard the story blamed the victim as if my presentation somehow reduced my skills and abilities and knowledge.

I, who was on the brink of deep depression and bankruptcy then could not have afforded to risk more such situations. It was decided that being an independent consultant is the safest bet in terms of job security. So I carried on with whatever support was available, with whatever money I was able to make in between phases of clinical depression.

It is difficult for a woman to live all by herself in Delhi for a variety of reasons. I have been living almost as an undocumented alien woman for the past 5 years. I say almost, because I do have legal documents but being able to prove to people that I am the same person as on the documents is an incredible challenge that almost always leads to some form of harassment or the other (and thus resorting to that identity is best avoided).

I don’t get to travel, I don’t get to use basic public services, banks are impossible, getting a phone connection (or any connection) is difficult, all because I am not who my documents say I am. Police is very difficult and only reserved for super emergencies, which do occur sometimes.

In 2014, in a landmark judgment, The Supreme Court of our country recognised our fundamental rights and in how many ways they are violated. It recognised that gender is a matter of self-identification.

It recognized our rights to life and equality. I saw a ray of hope.

When you are not documented, you lose a lot of opportunities and consequently, a LOT of time. All this while I could only work in Delhi. That I was even able to find work should speak to you both of my skills and talents as well as my privileges. When the judgment came out, I felt I would be able to travel once again, thanks to our Supreme Court.

Getting that “F” marker on my documents, even on one identity document, would have given me at least an equal-on-paper standing with cisgender women. I approached the same people who had fought the case for our rights, (they are an NGO and did not charge any legal fee) got an affidavit made. An ad notifying people of this change now and I was good.

As I found out, though, much to my agony and despair, there was an additional requirement – namely a proof of “surgery”.

This additional requirement is completely against the judgment mentioned before. What is worse is that it has been made a requirement by the gazette office which probably does not (and for good reasons, should not) even have a jurisdiction in such matters. This is a case of overreach in the absence of a proper legal framework.

Two years have passed since the judgment, and all this while I have been living vulnerable to all forms of harassment and abuse and I am not protected by the laws of the land. I am not even considered a citizen. Try to imagine how voting would work out.

I don’t have any protections in the workplace either. I am routinely discriminated against when I am looking for housing. Even when I am willing and capable (and honestly a little forced) to pay a premium for a safe-on-paper accommodation (which, in Delhi, means gated societies).

I have had to face routine sexual, physical and psychological abuse as a kid, routine abuse and harassment in college, and then when I finally came to be, routine harassment from the lack of laws around gender and absence of due legal protections began. With the lack of protection, I was abused in a relationship, little knowing who to talk to and spiralled into debilitating depression that caused me to go bankrupt.

Thankfully, my family and friends were there that time around to help me get back on my feet.

My state of being extremely vulnerable to all this continues to this day. It will end once I manage to have enough money to afford said surgery and then finally get the documents changed.

I don’t know when that might be, though. 2 years in the future? 3? More? That would make my years of living as an undocumented alien woman a bigger fraction of a decade. And that is me being optimistic. Because I would still have a difficult time without being documented. And I would still be as vulnerable as I have been all this while, if not more.

The only way I have managed to find some strength and a sense of safety, and that has been a constant learning throughout my transition, is by being as visible as I can be, regardless of my appearance, voice or presentation. I came out to almost everyone in my network so that they could be my witnesses. Online, if only, still.

My story could have been cut short by any random mishap, or by my own hands when I was contemplating suicide often enough for it to be a serious red flag.

I want you to know my story (at least some parts of it). And I want you to know something that I realised while trying to overcome all the shit that was flung my way – I am not alone.
I want to ask you, why has the Delhi government not taken any steps in this regard – two years after the judgement? Are we too invisible to matter?

There is an urgent need for a dialog. There is tremendous lack of awareness about and sensitivity towards transgender people. There is hatred and distrust and dislike and disgust. As a result, so many lives are not allowed to live up to their true potential. So many lives are lived as ghosts, on the margins of the society. We need to talk. We need you to understand and then act.

You could start with organizing open houses/public meetings with representatives of people directly affected in order to figure out how to make things better for everyone. And then, based on that, draft laws that are in accordance with the Supreme Court’s judgment regarding transgender people (NALSA vs Union of India, 2014 available here).

States like Kerala and West Bengal are taking progressive steps for the betterment of the lives of transgender people, there is an opportunity to learn from them as well.

I cannot emphasise more the need for these changes to happen in our laws and for them to be reflected in our society. Delhi, if it is to be a model for the rest of the country to follow, needs to be safe for and inclusive of people from all diverse backgrounds. This is a large scale problem and requires a proper understanding of the social dynamics at play. It cannot be solved in one swoop. It will require a concerted effort. We can start whenever you are ready and willing.

You can tweet to the author @_ritaah_

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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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