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“Trans People Can’t Be Thrown In Garbage”: Interview With India’s First Trans Queen

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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 Trans Queen 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.

Featured Image source: Nitasha Biswas/Facebook.
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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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