Setting an example for others, the minister of higher education in Tamil Nadu, KP Anbalagan announced on June 15, 2017, that Manonmaniam Sundaranar University will provide free education to trans students. The university has 102 colleges in Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli, and Kanyakumari districts. This decision has been taken by the syndicate of the university, chaired by its Vice-Chancellor, Dr K Baskar.
Apart from this, the university also plans to build separate washrooms for students who identify as trans. Moreover, an extra seat will be added to its undergraduate and postgraduate courses, reserved for a student from the trans community.
Prof. Yuvaraj Thiyagarajan, MSU, said, “From what I have heard, NGOs working for the welfare of the transgender community can now see a ray of hope for better career opportunities. This move will give transgender students a chance to lead a better life and also, sensitise the society.” The university is undertaking other initiatives for the empowerment of trans students. He added, “Our Vice Chancellor has initiated for an endowment (fund) for the welfare of the transgender community. Through this endowment, the university will take care of amenities that are essential for them and also promote activities for their empowerment.”
Apart from this, the university also plans to build separate washrooms for students who identify as trans. Moreover, an extra seat is being added to its undergraduate and postgraduate courses which will be reserved for a student from the trans community. Earlier this year, Panjab University too started constructing a separate washroom for trans students.
Most people have welcomed these steps. However, this raises another question – is building a separate washroom the best way to be inclusive or will it cause more segregation? Should there be a push towards building gender neutral washrooms instead?
Kalki Subramaniam, the founder of Sahodari Foundation which provides counselling and support services for underprivileged trans women, thought this might not foster inclusivity. She said, “As far as I know, we (trans women) are comfortable using the women’s restroom. Consider the case of Prithika Yashini, the first transgender person to become a Sub-Inspector (SI) of police – she underwent training with women officers. I do not understand the need for a separate restroom.”
Nonetheless, she praised the university for making efforts for the welfare of the trans community. She added, “This is indeed a commendable step. I hope that other leading universities in the country will also follow the path that MSU has taken.”