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“Trans People Don’t Need Sympathy But Understanding, Acceptance And Dignity”

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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.

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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.
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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.

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Image source: Sonu Mehta, Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

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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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