A day after I did this interview, I was travelling on the Mumbai metro, talking to a friend about it. One inquisitive co-passenger overheard me and threw an abrupt question. “Does she sound like a man or a woman?”
“Maybe just like a happy soul?”’ I smiled back.
I am overly sceptical when I communicate with people who have unusual stories under their sleeves. In the drive to satiate my mind, which craves to know it all, I wouldn’t want to end up asking insensitive questions. However, as I dialled her number on a calm Sunday afternoon, and as Nitasha answered my call with warm greetings, I knew I could afford to not be hesitant.
Meet Nitasha Biswas from Kolkata, India’s first transqueen; the proud winner of Miss Transqueen 2017. After winning the crown, she is now set to head to Thailand to compete for the Miss International Queen title.
From my past in-depth conversations with people from the LGBTQ community, I have a fair idea of the discourteous, uncivil and often hurtful social treatments that are imposed upon them.
The lack of sensitivity cuts deep, right?
“Everyone born in this country is already normal. You can be a boy or girl, you can be dark or fair in colour. It doesn’t really matter. We are citizens of India and we have the right to do anything we want to. We don’t have to ASK anyone for our rights.
“It is all in your self. It is all about the stigma of ‘wrongs’ that this society carries. I always have it in my mind that I am just like another woman and I am not going to ask anyone before going out or wearing the clothes I want to. That’s my right already, as per the constitution of India; as long as I am not killing someone or hurting someone,” Nitasha emphasises.
I ask her whether she has lent her active support to the movements advocating equal LGBTQ rights in Kolkata. “While all this was happening, I was just working hard. I’ve given a lot of dedication to be where I am today. Today, I am standing tall and strong. I’d now definitely want to be a part of the November pride march in Kolkata, in a rainbow saree,” she smiles.
This woman has probably understood the essence of change. Right at this moment, what India’s LGBTQ community needs are self-accomplished, learned faces who can back the movement with knowledge, argumentation, and sagacity, and take it forward.
In many cases, for homosexual or transgender people, self-discovery is a shock. Living in a system that is mostly rigid about its own definitions of right and wrong, it might not be easy for one to acknowledge that their desires and identity differ from what is ‘usual’. What’s her message to people who are struggling to accept themselves or wish to transition?
“You might think that you’re different, that you aren’t like others. I myself was put down so many times, at so many places! I was told I am different. You cut your hand. Blood comes out. I cut my hand. Blood comes out too. What’s so different about me then? Be strong and be bold. Don’t lose your willpower. That’s what helps you in overcoming the stress. Remember, you have to finish your journey, no matter what.
“For those looking for a transition, definitely, consult a psychologist who can guide you on the right path. Now, the doctors are more advanced. So are science and technology. There are more and more doctors coming out to find ways,” she answers.
She fondly tells me how she aims to bring all the positive social, legal and medical changes that she herself (or her generation) was deprived of.
“All the friends who once put me down, today tag me on Facebook. This is good in a way. Imagine friends who once hurt you, today want to be a part of your life. I think that’s where the hard work really pays off,” laughs Nitasha. I can sense the contentment that must be filling her right now.
However, the only way to confront the taboos plaguing the LGBTQ community is to educate more and more people.
“I strongly believe transgender anatomy should be taught in schools. Education can bring changes at a grassroots level. The youth has to know that we’re another gender. We’re human beings. We study a man’s anatomy. We study a woman’s anatomy too. Why not transgender anatomy, then?,” she argues.
It makes sense. So far, rights for transgender people are limited to admission forms in educational institutes, and voter ID cards. How much does that help in eradicating evil mindsets and maltreatment at the hands of society? Can we truly head towards an equal world until education acknowledges their existence?
Not many would know that transgender people today fall prey to sexual assault quite often. These instances only seem to grow in number; which is both sickening and frightful. But the bigger concern is, they’re rarely at the receiving end of a sensitive response from the protectors of law. Most wouldn’t understand how a transgender person can even be raped!
“The trans community is one of the world’s oldest communities. If you believe in mythology, then we are the descendants of Lord Shiva. We’ve been there, right from the beginning of this civilisation. You find us in holy books. Yet, we have been exploited forever. It is time we join hands and rise up. If not now, then when?,” I hear Nitasha questioning back.
Finding an answer to this is increasingly difficult. Since the time homosexuality was termed unnatural and announced illegitimate under section 377 of the IPC, the LGBTQ community has hardly acquired any kind of legal or constitutional shelter. This often results in more and more people suppressing their sexuality and surrendering to societal pressure, which frequently leads to finding escape in death or other self-destructive methods. Solace is a distant dream here. But on a more immediate note, this also leaves space for unaddressed sexual assault.
“One mere law can not change everything. As I told you, I do not believe in asking for rights. If you’ve been born as transgender, you can’t be thrown in the garbage! You deserve education and respect. The larger judgment definitely comes from the law because that’s about how you can self-identify as a particular gender.
“There have to be strict sub-laws and discrimination has to be acted upon. There are times when people discriminate in silence. Workplace laws have to be stronger. Laws regarding marriage have to be stronger. These things have to be taken care of by the Government of India more rigorously,” says the woman, who wanted to make it to the fashion world right from the beginning, and has done so commendably.
Nitasha is now aiming for Bollywood. While she was lucky enough to receive her family’s support right from the beginning, the journey to fame hasn’t been easy.
Why is winning a beauty pageant such a big deal, you ask? Her crown today affirms the fact that she dared to oppose the preset standards of beauty and womanhood. If that’s not brave, then what is?
“You put me down today, tomorrow I will come back with flying colours. That’s what I did,” she concludes.
We hope you fly high, Nitasha.