It’s no secret that the odds are stacked against trans and gender non-conforming people in India. Everything from our college admission forms, to public toilets, and security checkpoints insist on viewing gender as a binary. And those who don’t identify with the gender assigned to them at birth often find themselves as targets of discrimination. This could be in the form of bullying at school, being denied a job, being denied health services, and even heinous crimes.
There is a dire need to fix the faults in society that allows these things to happen to trans people. Towards that end, some of the best projects and initiatives have come from members of the community itself. And these seven examples show us exactly how trans people fight prejudice and stand up for their rights as citizens of India:
“aAA eEE Anjali” is a YouTube series launched by TransVision in April this year. Written and directed by transgender people, the show aims to “provide scientific and accurate information” about what it means to be trans. The discourse around trans identity and rights has largely come from a cisgender (and therefore limited) perspective; but this series breaks the mould and puts trans voices in the spotlight.
You might recognise Gauri Sawant as the kickass mom from Vicks’ latest ad-campaign, which destroys the notion that trans people cannot or should not be parents. But did you know she is also the kickass activist building a foster home for the children of sex workers in Mumbai? Called “Nani Ka Ghar” (grandmother’s home), it will employ older trans women who “have immense experience and can take care of the household”. Sawant’s initiative addresses not only the socio-economic disadvantages that elderly trans people face, but also focuses on promising sex workers’ children a better future.
In 2016, model and activist Rudrani Chettri began crowdfunding for a one-of-a-kind agency that would help mainstream transgender people – a modelling agency. In a society that constantly demeans trans people, Chettri’s motivation behind this project was “to make the community realise that they are beautiful.” The agency plans to give trans women (and also trans men!) a chance to explore a career path that is often closed to them because of systematic oppression.
When it was inaugurated in December last year, the Sahaj International School in Kochi made waves for becoming the first school dedicated to transgender students. The number of trans students in schools and colleges is dismally low and this is because of how society maligns the community. Founded by trans activist Vijayaraja Mallika, the school currently takes in trans people who were unable to complete their education for a number of reasons – having limited resources, being in a hostile or transphobic campus, or not being offered the opportunity to study in the first place.
A further bid to change the way India sees trans people arrives in the form of this project in Kolkata. Troyee is a talent platform that encourages people from the LGBTQ community to pursue work in creative fields like art, theatre and more. It was proposed by trans activist Shree Ghatak Muhury, and it aims at moving disadvantaged queer Indians into fulfilling and economically empowered roles that are otherwise denied to them because of rampant homophobia and transphobia in the workplace.
Trans people in India face disproportionate violence from the police force. Often, they are harassed, threatened, and even attacked by cops for begging, or doing sex work, or even just being out in public. In a horrific case from Chennai, a young transgender social worker named Tara was found burnt to death outside a police station. The culprits were never found, but it raised many questions about police misconduct. To combat occurrences like these is an awareness programme for the police, held by Ondede, the NGO set up by trans activist Akkai Padmashali.
Led by trans activists Abhina Aher, Urmi Jadhav and Madhuri Sarode, the Dancing Queens are a unique troupe from Mumbai that celebrates trans identities through traditional Indian dance forms. In many ways, the group draws on the trans community’s rich cultural heritage and history – as artists and performers. The troupe also aims to raise awareness about trans lives and rights for trans people, as well as increase visibility.
All of these projects will significantly increase trans visibility. But rather than showing the world ‘victims’ (as is usually the case), each of them will empower trans people to tell their own stories and showcase their strengths. And we can’t wait to see them get bigger and better!