YKA Exclusive: Are Workplaces Welcoming Of Transgender People In India?

By Avanish Tiwary for Youth Ki Awaaz:

Dividing her time between her terminally-ill parents and sending out resumes to prospective employers, the last few months have been tough on 36-year-old, Indira (name changed). Even as she drafts new mail to send out, she is aware, she may not hear from anybody. Not after she found herself without a job, every time she told her previous employers that she was a transwoman.

“I told them I was Indira and not Inder (the name given to her at birth), but no one called me by that name. I wasn’t allowed a separate restroom, and was instead forced to continue going to the male restroom. Employers can’t send a trans person undergoing hormone replacement to restrooms meant for men,” says Indira.

Soon enough, Indira found herself battling a case of urinary tract infection. “I didn’t want to use the men’s restroom, so I just stopped drinking water,” she says.

trans loo
The bathroom controversy has its place in India too. Source: Sara D. Davis/Getty

The fear of not being accepted in her workplace forced Indira to use her birth-name, a name she never identified with. “Legally speaking, the central and state governments are responsible for the plight of trans people and are in contempt of the NALSA judgment,” says Indira, adding that it was the recent NALSA judgment that encouraged her to speak out.

According to the NALSA judgement, passed by the Supreme Court this April, there should be equal rights and protection given to trans people. The judgement given in the NALSA vs. Union of India case, extends to inclusion of a third category, when recording one’s sex/gender in identity documents; and for admission in educational institutions and hospitals amongst others.

And today, as companies across the country look for ways to implement this new order, it also unlocks equal-employment opportunities for the transgender community.

But the tricky part here, says Bengaluru-based lawyer Gowthaman Ranganathan, is that in the strictest sense, the NALSA judgement might not be applicable to private corporations.

“Having said that, the Minister of Corporate Affairs can hold a company responsible. However, it has initiated conversations in workplaces to include trans people,” says Ranganathan, who works with the Alternative Law Forum and is associated with projects involving issues of gender and sexuality. “The good thing is that companies are now having internal dialogues about this.”

Showing a degree of progressiveness, companies such as the Tata Group, Godrej, ThoughtWorks and several others had in the past hired candidates from the transgender community.

The Future Group recently hired a trans person, and is currently looking to hire two to three more such candidates for its Mumbai office. E-commerce platform Snapdeal, since November 2015, is holding seminars and topic-specific sessions on gender and sexuality, with employees internally.

“Hiring trans people involves a lot of commitment. It is easy to hire a few people and say we are a good corporation. But it needs much more investment into your processes. These processes are not very easy and, sometimes, are the reason, corporations are not interested in hiring trans candidates,” says Ranganathan.

In a society where men with slight body types and tall women stand out due to skewed perceptions of masculinity and femininity, one’s physical features are often the first to make an impression. In the LGBTQ+ community, the ‘T’, i.e., transpeople, stand out even more so, due to their apparent physical features.

“When a six-foot tall transwoman goes for an interview,” says Indira, “she starts getting judged and pointed at, from the moment she enters the office. Naturally, our skeletal structure is such that our bodies are very broad and we grow taller than most other Indian women. Our jaw lines are broader and I can’t just wish away my jaw lines. So, the stigma starts from the second our prospective employer takes a look at us.”

Voting For Sixth Phase Of Lok Sabha Polls
While it’s great that trans people can vote using the third gender option, more has to be done in terms of their rights as a whole. Source: Vidya Subramanian / Getty

Madhumita Venkataraman, who works independently for the LGBTQ community, provides assistance to trans people by getting them relevant job interviews and sensitising corporate teams. She is also the Human Resource person at Snapdeal.

“When I send companies, resumes of trans people, they imagine a (stereotypical) hijra standing in front of them. The other misconception/bias is that all of them are uneducated, thus unfit for the job, which is not the case,” says Venkataraman.

But a lack of proper education, is one of the biggest barriers for trans people to find a source of livelihood.

Danish Sheikh, legal consultant with the International Commission of Jurists, says, “The trans participation in the formal work sector is very limited. A large part of the blame goes to lack of education. A large population is unable to finish education at school because of discrimination and violence. Beggary and sex work are the only options left to them.”

Indira, for instance, who has a Bachelor’s degree, never set foot inside her college because of the mental and

physical harassment she faced while in school.

Similarly, discrimination dogged transwoman, Nayana Udupi, at every step. It took her five long years to quit sex work and find a job. Now a graphic designer at ThoughtWorks, Udupi says she had never seen a trans` person until she came to Bengaluru from Mangaluru.

“My father would always scold and tell me to stop behaving like a hijra. I had never seen a hijra then. But the way my father would say it, it seemed derogatory. I started hating that word, not knowing I will have to live with the community one day,” says Udupi.

Though her father kept abusing her, calling her all sorts of names, she continued with schooling, and developed an interest in sketching and designing. With her mother’s support, she says, she completed her SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) besides a short-term course in multimedia.

After being sent out of her house by her father for ‘not being manly’, circumstances threw her into sex work and begging in Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore. “While I was doing all that, I wasn’t happy living that life. I went around 40-50 companies but because of my apparent features, I couldn’t get any job. Meanwhile, I stopped doing sex work and slowly started taking up freelance projects as a designer,” says Udupi.

Nayana Udupi lost all her assignments and her career as a freelance designer came to an end, once her employers got to know that she’s a transwoman.

Both Indira, a graduate in economics, and Udupi, who has had some basic education till 2nd PUC (Pre-University Course), admit that their narratives are only representative of a sliver of what most trans people face in India.

Transgenders Celebrate Supreme Court Verdict By Pledging To Donate Eyes
Source: Sonu Mehta/Getty

“I come from a lower middle class family so I was lucky to get some education. Most people from the transgender community aren’t even literate, let alone educated, so finding a job is very difficult for them,” says Indira.

“Due to an upset growing-up life situation, many of the times, there is no formal educational qualifications. So, how do you ensure that they get on to their lives and get a proper job?” asks Shubha Chacko, head at Solidarity Foundation, an organisation that helps sexual minorities find corporate jobs.

Even if a trans person gets a job, more often than not, due to non-sensitisation of the workplace, they are forced to leave and go back to the street to sell their body or beg for a living.

“Many trans people have been forced to leave organisations due to circumstances created by fellow employees and seniors in the office. Many a time, people assume trans people are sex workers and seek to have sex with them after office hours. Everyone hires, but how do you ensure they remain in that job after that? How do you ensure they are not mentally and physically harassed?” asks an HR executive of an IT firm, who did not wish to be named.

Organisations such as Chacko’s Solidarity Foundation, Inner Sight and InHarmony, work with the LGBTQ+ community and corporate entities to make the workplace, amicable for both.

Sensitisation, then, is an issue that requires an all-around approach, not just a top-down one. In one incident, a transgender candidate had gone for an interview “and after having a good look at her, the office guard didn’t let her set foot inside the office. That was unfortunate,” says Chacko. Previously, the senior management and the team had already sat down for sensitivity-sessions, but the guard had been left out.

“The scenario is dismal because even if one trans person leaves because of such (unwanted) incidences, it’s bad for the whole community because then the HR thinks, what is the point of hiring them,” elaborates Chacko.

But this is precisely what workplaces need to actively avoid. Open and accepting spaces for people of different gender or sexual orientations is hardly an unreasonable demand to make, and with the help of programs that help sensitise organisations, we may be able to rectify this situation to provide all with equal opportunity and visibility.

Avanish Tiwary is a Bengaluru-based independent journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters. He has worked with Mint, First Post and Financial Express.

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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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