By Kshitij Singh:
Editor’s note: Over 92% of women in India experience some form of harassment, yet, we hesitate to speak up. To help create safe spaces for conversations around these experiences, Youth Ki Awaaz and Breakthrough India have come together to encourage more individuals to speak out and support one another. The piece below is a part of this collaboration. We ask people everywhere to come, #StandWithMe.
As I was walking down M.G. Road in Bengaluru, something uncanny caught my eye. I saw people dispersing and looking away as a transwoman was walking towards Brigade road.
I reiterate, she was ‘walking’, not begging. I could see people’s coy smiles, passing a comment or two on her. Not to mention their awkwardness in moving their faces away so as not to make an eye contact with her.
Would it have been the same if it was just another person? Perhaps not. Ostracised from the society, these incidents are daily hassles that trans people have to go through.
But are these incidents really mundane? Unimportant? The silence and behaviour of people I witnessed that day speak volumes about the transphobic nature of the Indian society.
Pushed to the margins from the mainstream, male-to-female trans individuals in India from distinct local communities called Hijras, Jagappas, Siva-Shaktis, etc., have long had their own history consisting of their cultural identities and varied communities to sustain themselves.
Treated mercilessly by society’s norms and its people, trans people often have to run away from their families to join these communities. All this may sound clichèd, but there is so much that many trans people go through that we don’t know about.
In the last three weeks of my diploma course in sexuality, gender and life skills, there were thorough and intense discussions on sexuality and gender identity which I would use to explain the discrimination trans people face.
The very first one would be the lack of awareness. People often confuse gender identity and the sex of a person. They are not the same.
Sex is biologically determined; whether one is born male, female or intersex. Gender is a social construct i.e. what society believes is a man or a woman. Gender identity is how one sees oneself; it has nothing to do with the society. For most trans women, their sex is male, but their gender identity is that of a female, and use gender pronouns of their choice.
Society terms anything which is different as ‘not normal’. Denied basic rights from the society and pushed to the margins, trans communities in India have a long history of their own Gods, beliefs and ritualistic practices.
A community is run by a Guru, a leader who looks after her ‘chelas’ using the money they collect. As it is very clear that there is no economic inclusion of transgenders, they resort to ‘mangti’ or begging, ‘badhai’ where they seek money from family occasions like marriage or birth of a child and ‘pun’ which is sex work.
Many trans communities across India have a practice called ‘nirwaan’ in which they welcome a new trans person ‘akwa’ into their community through the crude removal of penis and testes.
They consider this practice as an important one because only by undergoing this, is a trans individual fully accepted and respected in the community. This practice is common since they cannot afford sex reassignment surgery but have a strong will to undergo this because of the dislike they carry towards their bodies.
In a field visit that was part of my course, I met Deeksha (name changed), a trans woman and a transgender rights activist living in Bengaluru.
She narrated the story of her life of how she became who she is today. Thrown out of her home for revealing her gender identity, she told me how her parents’ only consideration was what their relatives and friends would think and say.
Apart from being bullied by her peers, Deeksha was rebuked by her college professors for her personal choice of dressing as well as her behaviour. They would comment saying that she was failing to be a boy.
Strong and stoical Deeksha left college saying that they had “failed to be professors and teachers”. She also narrated how she was raped by few men and ran back to her home for help but her parents didn’t allow her in.
Deeksha clearly highlighted a very important fact that trans people don’t need sympathy but simply an understanding, acceptance and dignity just as all other human beings.
Hence, condemning a person for being who they are is completely unjustified and so is society’s power to exercise unnecessary control over an individual’s gender or sexuality.
Deeksha, now, is a brave and strong trans woman and an activist who learns English and pursues dancing as her hobby.
Throughout this journey of learning and understanding the vast oceans that gender and sexuality are, I also observed another noteworthy issue that there is no place, community or even a little bit of freedom to express female-to-male transgender identity in India.
Being a transman is often termed as ‘tomboyish’ or just a phase in a girl’s life and not even thought of as a gender identity. It’s an indicator of the overall patriarchal system where female sexuality and it’s expression doesn’t exist at all.
If you’d like to share your own experiences – from dealing with everyday sexism and gender stereotyping, to period shaming, harassment and abuse , do share your stories using #StandWithMe, and help take this important conversation forward.