Indian people with transgender identities include binary trans men and women, non-binary individuals, intersex individuals, cross-dressers and gender non-conforming individuals. They are also known by various local names such as ‘Hijra’, ‘Aravani’, ‘Kinnar’, ‘Kothi’, ‘Jogti’, ‘Jogappa’, ‘Khusra’ and ‘Shiv-Shakthi’. Historically, transgender individuals have existed as a culturally distinct community in India. However, they still struggle with discrimination and violence in every sphere of life.
Only in 2011, the Indian Census decided to count transgender people. The count came up to 4,90,000 transgender persons in the country. Of this, 55,000 were in the 0-6 years old bracket, a result that came from parents identifying their children as trans.
Having to put up with tremendous discrimination, trans and gender inquiring children are barely able to make it through each day. At school, they are bullied by peers and teachers. At home, their parents demand that they behave as per ‘gender norms’, otherwise face threatening and violent consequences, captivity, and social isolation. When they step out, they get bullied by local goons and police officers as well. They are also vulnerable to sexual violence even as children. Faced with difficulties at every turn, many trans children leave home in hopes of finding a place to call their own.
Like a trans woman by the name of Meera shared, “Ever since I came out to my parents, I have received nothing but grief from them. Even if they accept me in the future, I will never accept them.” The next time we met her, she had left home and was trying to make a living on her own.
Having to drop out of schools and colleges act as barriers to access to healthcare, social protection, and financial security. All social schemes and security plans require proof of citizenship and/or residence. Having fled home at an early age, most transgender individuals do not have their documents with them. Thus, they are unable to apply for jobs despite having the requisite qualifications that could provide them income and social security. The stigma associated with being trans also results in a narrow window of livelihood opportunities.
The census revealed that transgender individuals were more likely to be disadvantaged in education with only 46%, as compared to 74% of the general population, being literate. They were also more likely to be out of work with only 38% of the community, as compared to 46% in the general population, working. Only 65% of the total working population among transgender persons, as compared to 75% in the general population, found work for more than six months in the year.
There is no reason why transgender individuals should not have the full right to explore and discover their gender identities on their own terms. In India, the world’s largest democracy, more than 4,90,000 individuals live in fear, unable to realise even the most basic human rights. Their days are marred by abuse and violence, only because they do not conform to the society’s gender norms.
However, a lot can change if we want it to. A great starting point would be in ensuring safe spaces for trans people, acceptance within their families, workspaces, and communities and amplifying trans voices to articulate and overcome their marginalisation.
In our current age, where feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression seem to be all pervasive among our peers, it is important for us to remind ourselves the value of being inclusive and encouraging everyone to accept themselves.