By YKA Staff:
M. Suman created history last year when she became the first trans person to access regular college and admissions at St. Joseph’s Evening College in Bengaluru, Karnataka. 12 years ago, on her first try however, she was unable to bear the ragging and the humiliation and had to drop out. But since then, she has been awarded ‘Bangalore Youth Activist’ in 2015 for her work on human rights, and has been at the forefront of trans rights and HIV awareness through her work at Samara and currently through her role as director of Swatantra Organisation.
On November 12, 2016, she shared her powerful story of creating change, breaking barriers and standing up for trans rights at CONVERGE 2016, YKA’s flagship event.
“Why am I not allowed into college institutions, public buses, toilets and mainstream institution?” asked Suman as she began her session. By questioning how we construct gender, she reflected on the so-called normalcy or lack of it of transpeople. “Why do we need to discriminate against trans people by calling them things like ‘chakka’? It hurts us. We are well-skilled.”
Suman spoke on a more personal note when she spoke on the turbulent relationship with her parents and she noted how from a very young age, they used to restrict her based on gender. “I used to help my mom in the kitchen. But my dad used to force me to play cricket and not play with my sister.” Things took a turn for the worse, when her parents put her in a mental hospital for 15 days and was given shock treatment with the hope that she would ‘change’.
School was not a joy ride for Suman as she had to encounter bullying and discrimination. In her first attempt at college, things did not get better. “They used to harass me sexually. The principal asked me to correct myself when I brought it to their notice.” Suman shared the heartbreaking story of how she was put under house arrest by her parents after she quit college and was treated like an animal.
For trans people in the workforce, discrimination and silencing is rampant and Suman spoke about how she had to take up sex work to feed herself because she wasn’t accepted anywhere else. “I continued sex work for five years. I received harassment from all corners. At one point, I even contemplated suicide.”
But Suman shared how she thrived and found herself again when she worked with an organisation as an outreach workers by distributing condoms and spreading awareness to people in her community. Once she left the organisation to join a typical organisation, the abuse and discrimination she faced forced her to quit. But that did not stop Suman.
“I struggled for five years to get my education back. Today I am attending St. Joseph’s Evening College where I am first class student, class representative and cultural secretary,” added Suman. “10 trans people have come forward this year to take admission,” said Suman on the impact of her powerful life story.
Suman shared how she uses her voice to fight for trans rights in India and through actual policy that can impact lives. That is how she described her work with Swatantra as she powerfully looks forward with hope in her life and engaging the audience in a session that was as powerful as it was heartwarming and personal.