Dhananjay Mangalmukhi has been an active voice for the trans community. In 2013, she was one of the organisers of the first Chandigarh Pride Walk. It has now expanded and is celebrated as an annual LGBTQ pride week. She is also the director of Chandigarh-based NGO Saksham Trust, which provides support to the LGBTQ community in the states of Punjab and Haryana. Recently, she has also been appointed as a non-official member of Chandigarh’s Transgender Welfare Board.
As the first student from the trans community to have ever studied at Chandigarh’s Panjab University, she’s currently pursuing a master’s degree in Human Rights at the age of 46. She’s now working to bring more trans students to the campus and making the campus more friendly for the people from her community.
In a candid conversation with YKA, she talks in detail about her life, her struggles as a trans student in university and more.
Vaibhav Jain (VJ): How has life been like as the first student from the trans community to have studied in Panjab University?
Dhananjay Mangalmukhi (DM): Not quite good. When someone is entering the university or any other educational institute, especially a person from the trans community, which has been a marginalised community for thousands of years, it’s not easy. In the social science department, you may say that there is a certain level of acceptance, but in other departments, it’s almost nil. I don’t understand why! Is it that the students have come from very regressive backgrounds, or is it that their parents have not bothered to teach them about these things? But it’s sad that even in institutes of higher education like Panjab University, there is such a level of discrimination. People here show vulgar signs, pass comments like ‘chalegi kya‘? and try to bully. They think we are sex workers. It’s still difficult to ask out a girl like that, but we are very convenient targets. Because we have no law, no police to go to. Definitely, all of this has made it a very difficult life to have. But still, this does not discourage us. We are very stubborn people. I was alone when I came here. Now we are five trans students. Next year, we have a target of 10.
VJ: You knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, and all this was going to happen. Then what prompted you to take up your post-graduation at this age?
DM: Actually, I started my college late, at the age of 23, after a four-year gap. See, even today people are saying that trans people should not be allowed in educational institutes. You can imagine what the situation would have been so many years back. It was really difficult to enter college, living in a closet and concealing my identity. So there were a lot of hiccups during my studies, but I have always embraced education as a major tool for the progress of the community. I never broke that link with education. I pursued a lot of part-time and certificate courses because it didn’t require me to stay on campus for long hours, and hence, it helped me escape all the bullies. But with time, I have grown strong to withstand, and now here I am, as a full-time student at Panjab University.
VJ: In a recent development, you have successfully persuaded the university authorities to build separate toilets for students belonging to the trans community. The first such toilet is already under construction. What do you think is the significance of this step?
DM: Building separate washrooms for the trans students was very important. I have been using the female washroom in my department. I could have easily gone through my course without doing anything. But it’s important to leave a mark, to initiate the change. I’m 46. I have to do something for the coming generation. Building separate washrooms for trans students was one such thing. Thankfully, the authorities co-operated.
VJ: What is your next target? Are the university authorities completely with you now? What do you want them to do next?
DM: The authorities now seem to be aligned with our ideas. Thankfully! Now we are pitching for a separate hostel for trans students. Proposal for fee concession has already been passed. There’s a lot more to do.
VJ: How was your childhood like? Could you elaborate on your struggles as someone from the trans community?
DM: I, in my heart, was aware of my identity since the age of three or four. I clearly remember it from when I was five. But before my teenage years, it was not much of a struggle because people ignored (male and female are quite similar in that age). It became all the more difficult after that. My parents began to notice, asking me to behave. It was really suffocating until the time I lived in a closet, wearing pants and shirts. After coming out, all of it remained, only the set of difficulties changed.
VJ: For how long have you been living in Chandigarh? How do you find it for people belonging to the trans community? Is it safe? What’s the attitude of the people?
DM: I have always been living here, since my childhood. It’s certainly better than other cities. Maybe this is because the people here are urban and more educated. The fear of law is also there, to some extent. But in villages and towns, it’s really worse because there is no one to help there. A person from the trans community becomes a ‘nagarvadhu’ there, to be used by the whole village. Such things don’t happen here.
VJ: Are you optimistic about India being a country which will be friendly towards the LGBTQ community in the near future?
DM: Yes, definitely. See, the women community has been struggling for hundreds of years, and it’s now that they have got some rights. And we are just three years old. We were recognised as the third gender in 2014. You can’t expect that everything will be fine just the moment a judgement is passed. We need to work at the grassroots. It will take time, but things will change, as they already have.