A few days back, I embarked upon an assignment that aimed at dealing with the experience of trans people in our society. To interview them personally about their trying experiences was the priority. With no known information about their whereabouts, I started to call friends.
When asked about any contact details of a trans person, one of my friends complained, “Are bhai sirf mai mila tha tumko chakka ka contact dhoondne ke liye (Was I the only guy left in your friend circle to ask for the contact details of a trans person)?”
Amazed by his response, I asked for a clarification and questioned him, “What is so wrong with keeping the phone number of a trans individual?”
And he replied in a still tone, “Kuch nahin bhai tum nahin samjhogay (Nothing brother, you won’t understand).”
Disappointed, I started walking. I walked to Mirgund Chowk, which is 4 km away from the office of the District Commissioner of Badgam in Kashmir valley. On my way there, I met one of my teenage friends and after trading pleasantries, I straight away told him about what I was looking for.
Initially, he chuckled and raised his eyebrows. On being informed about the purpose of meeting them, he opened up and educated me about the whereabouts of three young trans people living near his place. While we were talking and figuring out ways to meet them, he was approached by three more friends with cricket kits hanging on their shoulders.
“What is he looking for?”, one of them asked my friend.
There was no answer from my friend’s side, so I started talking instead. The moment I translated the word ‘trans’ into the local language, they burst out laughing.
“Are bhai, tumne to daadi rakhi hai, tumko yeh nahin karna chahiye tha (At least you should not talk about these things, you have a full grown beard on your face),” one of them said.
“Woh teeno relationship mein hai, tumko kuch nahin milne wala (All of them are in relationships, you won’t get anything contacting them),” another guy with an MRF bat in his hands said to me.
Before another guy could have hooted and recorded his allegations, I interrupted and explained the purpose of my meeting with them. Reacting to my disclosure, they searched their phones and gave me the contact number of one.
Immediately, I dialled the number and introduced myself to the person on the other side of the phone. I described the objective behind my call, halfway through the call, she chimed in and asked me to abort the call.
“Aapne mera number kahan se liya, mujhe aapse koi baat nahi karni, akele rehne do mujhe (Where did you find my contact number, I don’t want to talk to you, please leave me alone),” she said.
In an attempt to persuade her for an appointment, I empathetically asked her about her everyday experiences as a trans member of the society.
“Society ko goli maro, bas tum mera phone rakhdo, aur dobara phone nahin karna (Society be damned, just drop this call and don’t call me ever again),” she replied in an enraged tone.
It then occurred to me that drafting an investigative report on the killings of top militant commanders and breaking the news about departments becoming a cesspool of corruption was way easier than recording the experiences of trans people. No one was ready to talk about them, in fact, some individuals questioned my religiosity, many of them laughed and said, “Ab chakka mila tha tumko sex karne ke liye (was only a trans person left in this world to be your sexual partner).”
One of my journalist friends smirked at this idea of talking to trans people and said, “Kashmir is a three-decade long conflict zone, nobody cares about the lives of this solitary species.”
Curiosity kept knocking on my head, and I decided to visit a friend in whose locality lived the person I had talked over the phone with. Finally, after looking for him for hours I managed to locate him. Fortunately, the person happened to be a close relative of my friend. My cheer didn’t last for long when he filled me in about the possible consequences of talking to this person.
“Agar maine us ke saath baat ki toh gharwale meri beizzati karengay, mein usko salaam karta hoon, par tumhare objective ke baare mein baat karna mushkil hai, mujhe log galath nazar se dekhengay (meeting him won’t be appreciated by my family, I do greet him but talking about your objective would land me into an unpleasant situation, society will doubt my intentions)”, my friend said to me.
I decided to stay put and enlighten my friend about the contemporary status and rights of trans people in the world. Hoping that the revelation would inspire him to get closer to this individual who wasn’t a stranger but a member of his own family. I googled the name of Madhu Bai Kinnar, India’s first trans mayor, and showed Madhu’s accomplishments to my friend. I also showed him the phenomenal success of Manabi Bandyopadhyay, who has served as the principal of Krishnagar Women’s College, West Bengal. Not just that, I also singled out every living trans person around the world who has touched the heights of success to him. From conservative countries like Pakistan (Kami Sid) to liberal countries like America (Laverne Cox) I talked about it all.
Because this wasn’t enough for him, in an endeavour to update his knowledge about trans rights, I read a resolution passed by the Denmark Government in 2014 to allow legal gender recognition for trans people over the age of 18, solely based on their self-determination and without any medical intervention. Also, the judgment of Indian Supreme court in 2014, in which it was decided that the ‘Hijra’ community or ‘third gender’ people have the right to self-identify without sex reassignment surgery. Under the ruling, transgender people are allowed equal access to education, health care, employment, and protection from discrimination. Additionally, I informed him about the changing trends around the world towards trans people. Eventually, he promised to try his best to meet him.
The bottom line is that in a society where people refuse to talk about the trans people living in close proximity to their houses, where a question about the trans community is followed by skeptical and shaming looks, where asking about their whereabouts invites laughter, where developing friendship with them is seen as a move to derive sexual benefits, where no one is ready to accept them as ‘normal’, and competent individuals, where they are seen as ‘sexual objects’, where societal setup forces them to join either the ranks of prostitutes or manzimyours (ones who facilitate marriages), where their actual names are replaced with hateful and disreputable appellatives such as “Asif-Dazy” and “Abdul Rashid-Reshma”, where they are seen as lesser human beings, where there are not many civil right organizations to protect them from abuses, it is quite difficult to raise a voice for their rights.