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In India, Nothing About Being A Trans Person Is Easy

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By Dr V Sam Prasad:

According to the World Health Organization, transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and expression do not conform with the sex assigned to them at birth – it includes binary trans men and women, non-binary trans people and those who may be gender non-conforming.

Trans people are also addressed by a variety of indigenous terms used in specific cultures, such as ‘hijra’, ‘thirunangai’, ‘kinnar’, ‘shiv-shakti’, ‘jogappa’, ‘sakhi’, ‘jogta’, ‘aradhi’. They may express their gender in a variety of masculine, feminine or other ways. The transgender population has a recorded history of more than 5,000 years, as is evident from different cultures and histories of civilisations across the globe.

In April 2014, the NALSA judgement was a landmark decision by the Supreme Court, which affirmed that the fundamental rights granted under the Constitution of India will be equally applicable to trans people and gave them the right to self-determine their gender.

It is estimated that the population of trans people in India is 4.9 lakh according to census data from 2011. The highest proportion, about 28%, was in Uttar Pradesh, 9% was in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar had 8% each, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal had over 6% and in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Odisha, it was over 4%.

Image Credit: Imtiyaz Shaikh/Anadolu Agency/Contributor

Trans people often have to isolate themselves from mainstream life because of societal norms and because of the binary classification of gender. It is expected that everyone conforms to the roles and the gender identity assigned to them at birth. If one does otherwise, they are labelled a deviant and become targets for discrimination. This leads to trans people having to hide their true identities and experience psychological stress, mental trauma and depression.

In India, nothing about being a trans person is easy. As conversations on gender, sex and sexuality tend to be a taboo in Indian society, many trans people grow up confused about their gender identity, left to figure it out all by themselves. As a result, they often feel ‘different’ from an early age.

Bullied in schools, many drop out. Seen as an embarrassment to their families, they are forced to leave home. They may be forced into taking up sex work. Because of poverty and lack of employment opportunities, trans people may be pushed into selling drugs or even human trafficking — in order to survive.

One should admit, as a nation, that the current population has very little understanding of what it means to be transgender and how the trans community has to make a living, despite having a long history of their presence in our culture. As a result, the entire job search and hiring process are full of challenges, particularly if the gender on an identity document, for example, an Aadhar card, does not match the outward appearance of the applicant.

Once a transgender employee is hired, he or she may face many forms of harassment and discrimination, including denial of promotions or unfair firing – that too well within the probationary period despite having skills and talents. The wage disparities in addition to job discrimination, make it harder for them to provide for themselves and their families. Many people report changing jobs to avoid discrimination or the risk of discrimination. Many companies who do not want to invite legal tangles play it safe due to IPC Section 377 which criminalises same-sex intercourse.

Rights and entitlements like property rights, inheritance of family wealth, health insurance, etc. are beyond the reach of trans communities as official requirements make it difficult or impossible for many trans people to obtain accurate and consistent identification documents to claim their rights. Times are changing and we see a lot of attempts to bring the community into the mainstream, especially through awareness programs and campaigns.

India has to implement laws based on the transgender bill, focusing on making the community mainstream and thereby reduce their vulnerabilities, end stigma and discrimination, provide social protection, right to entitlements, subsidies, education, employment, even marriage and health/general insurance. Failing to guarantee these would mean trans people having to continue being forced into sex work where they are at a high risk of contracting STDs.

It is comforting to see that the trans community is being given the opportunity to join the Kochi metro corporation workforce, enabling them to take on life’s challenges with a smile. We do hope that other organisations would prepare themselves to brace the changes of our times and practice the true definition of inclusive development. As employment opportunities improve for trans people, there would be fewer chances of them being forced into sex work or begging and also fewer chances of them contracting STDs.

It will require consistent commitment from individuals, citizens, organisations, industries and the government to sustain these efforts and make things accessible for the trans community. Mass sensitization of citizens on LGBTQIA issues will be an additional task of government and civil societies to further the cause of protecting the human rights of these communities.

Dr V Sam Prasad is the Country Programme Director, AIDS Healthcare Foundation


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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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