Ask people in India,’what you know about transgenders?’,most of them only answer that they have seen them begging on traffic signals or trains and some start complaining about their bad behavior.Though it’s a harsh reality for many transgenders in India.But the fact that we often ignore or don’t even realize is that directly or indirectly we as a society are responsible for their condition and behavior, as being disowned by their own family and harsh treatment by other people in society, leads to their so called rude/bad behavior. Lack of sufficient education and non availability of jobs takes them to begging and prostitution.
But still amid all these adversities, there are some transgender Indians who were brave enough to make their way to main stream, achieved their goals and proved that transgenders are as capable and deserving as any other Indians,thus breaking the stereotypes.It really takes much strength and pain for them,to be who they really are, as they feel depressed in initial years, when they are figuring out how to deal with gender misalignment or dysphoria.And to achieve their dreams in a country,where people see them as someone on whom they can crack jokes, mock or even harass,makes their life even more difficult.Some people who are polite enough, feel sympathy or pity towards transgenders,but never do anything helpful for them. This ignorance and lack of understanding about transgender individuals in Indian society needs to be changed as soon as possible,and it can only be done by spreading awareness among people and giving proper education and jobs to transgender Indians along with laws protecting them from any kind of harassment.
Transgenders have always been a part of Indian culture,though during the colonial rule in India,they were misunderstood and thus suffered a lot, due to the Victorian laws.After independence,while most of the Indians celebrated a life of dignity and equality.Indian Transgenders were left to the margins of the society along with other members of LGBT community.As they were more open, unlike other members of LGBT community,they were often maltreated and harassed, because of the deep rooted patriarchy and also the mindset which was mostly influenced by views of Britishers towards gender identity and norms.Anybody questioning it, was often ridiculed and labeled as inferior.Indian films too, instead of spreading awareness about their problems, often portrayed them just as caricatures,thus increasing social stigma and discrimination surrounding them.It was only in April,2014 when transgenders got the legal recognition as a Third gender by the Supreme Court,but still the social recognition,equality,dignity and social awareness regarding transgender Indians has started very slowly post the NALSA( National Legal Service Authority v. Union of India) judgement.Which is not new in India,where it really took a lot of struggle for even women’s,to get equal rights on practical grounds.
When we look back in history,in Hindu mythology,transgenders who were called kinnars were kept alongside yakshas and gandharvas, also we come across characters like Shikhandi,Ila,Mohini,etc. to name a few, playing important roles. The Ardhanarishvara form of divine energy,who was created by merging of God Shiva and Goddess Parvati is worshiped in Hinduism.During the rule of Mughal dynasty in India,transgenders were given important posts of security and decision making.It’s really sad that still it took so long for transgenders to get, even their legal recognition in India.
For those, who don’t know clearly about the term transgender.Transgender is an umbrella term which includes third gender, trans men/women,transvestite,transsexual and genderfluid persons.To be simple, it refers to someone who transcends gender binary.A person whose biological sex/gender doesn’t aligns with psychological sex/gender.which is technically referred to as ‘Gender dysphoria’.Transgender may or may not include intersex people.While scientific researches are still in progress, as to why Gender Dysphoria occurs in some people,if we look on what has been found till present date,the widely accepted researches show that it occurs mainly due to biological factors, with a person of a particular sex showing brain function,response and neuron distribution similar to that of opposite sex.
After the NALSA judgement which gave transgender legal recognition as the third gender,it was thought that now transgenders would be treated equal,followed by awareness through all mass media sources. given education and opportunities,so that they can get respectful position in society.But the reality is, the Transgender Rights Bill 2014,which was passed by rajya sabha but was later deformed and introduced in lok sabha by the present ruling government of Bharatiya Janata party or BJP in year 2016,is not yet passed.Attitude of political leaders toward transgenders and related issues has been of hypocrisy in majority of cases.Politicians who use Indian citizens as vote banks,feel uneasy to bring any significant positive change in society in fear of loosing their votes.Thus,even when India is a democratic and so called inclusive country,the fate of minorities are left in hands of majority,which often only creates more hurdles in development of minorities.
As in case of transgender community in India, the absence of any legal protection and nationwide social awareness,transgenders still suffer violence and harassment.Recently,a transgender Sabi Giri posted as sailor of Indian Navy was sacked from her duty post gender change without considering her transfer in other department,India’s first transgender principal Manabi Bandopadhyay resigned from her job because her colleagues were non cooperative,shanavi Ponnusamy was refused to be given job in Air India because of her gender.Incidents like these are still happening,while Transgender Rights Bill is under process.
Amid all this darkness,we got some good news too, like India got it’s first transgender IPS officer as K Prithika Yashini and Joyita Mondal as Lok Adalat Judge.Anjali Ameer as first transsexual actress to play lead role and Natasha Biswas as Trans queen India etc.No doubt, it must have been a tough journey.Their achievements have given adequate answers to people who think transgenders are incapable.While the struggle for equality and dignity is still going on, more and more awareness is needed in Indian society,so that the new generation of transgender people,who are either out or still questioning their gender identity and are in a way to later come out as a transgender person,don’t have to suffer due to prejudices and ignorance towards transgenders in not only rural but urban parts of India as well.
Moving further, let’s have a look at the common prejudices and myths popular in India regarding transgender community.which directly or indirectly affects transgender people in a very negative way.
Myth/Prejudice- Every transgender is a hijra.
Truth/Fact- The truth is NO. While those who are ignorant and insensitive,often use hijra as a derogatory term to mock and abuse effeminate boys and transgender individuals.Most of the people in India don’t know that hijra community is a socio-cultural community/group of transgender people belonging to India and few neighbouring countries.They have their own set of rules and customs, and transgender person who accepts to become a part of this community/group can only be called a hijra. Thus, every transgender person is not a hijra.
Myth/Prejudice- Transgenders are incapable of doing significant jobs.
Truth/Fact- While many transgenders have been successful in breaking this prejudice surrounding them. In several parts of India, people still believe in such stereotypes and refuse to give jobs to transgenders.Not only lot of awareness is needed regarding this, but proper education and skills should be give given to transgenders,so that they can become a productive workforce.More than half of transgenders/effeminate boys leave their education in middle, because they suffer bullying and harassment, not only because of ignorance among students, but teachers as well.Which can only be solved by awareness and sensitization of educational institutions regarding transgender issues.A well educated transgender Indian is as capable and deserving to be posted on significant jobs as any other cis-gendered Indian men/women.
Myth/Prejudice- Being parent to a transgender child is shameful.
Truth/Fact- This is the most common prejudice present in society because of which people disown their own children to suffer alone in this world,it’s heartbreaking!
Parents who see their children from the eyes of society,often don’t realize that to be progressive,a society needs to be evolved and necessary changes needs to be included with time,with increase of knowledge.And the responsibility is on us to make it better,inclusive and progressive by bringing the necessary changes.More or less,the views of society towards an individual,a group or a community starts from us,because we are part of it.If we change our mindsets and become rational and understanding,sooner or later,the mindset of society as a whole will become rational,progressive and inclusive.For example,few decades back due to some prejudices surrounding girl child,girls were not seen as equal as boys, nor were they given higher education and opportunities and also were forced to marry when they wanted to do higher study and become independent by doing jobs.but as we all know some parents stood out and supported their girl children to do higher studies and achieve their dreams,girls too proved themselves to be deserving and capable of working at higher posts and achieving every dream once told to be impossible for them.So,when the society and sometimes even their relatives opposed them,those parents stood by their children and set examples through their children,thus helping in shaping a better and equal society.Now, we know that the thinking of people towards girl child has almost changed in urban areas and is changing gradually in rural areas.
The same applies to transgender children as well,if parents starts understanding their transgender child ,they would realize that, their is nothing wrong with their child,and the real problem is with the mindsets of society, which needs to be changed.And for that they should provide their transgender children as much love,care and education, as to any other child,so that they can become independent and achieve their dreams,the prejudices surrounding transgender children in present times, would take no time to leave Indian society.
Myth/Prejudice- Transgender women’s can never become mothers.
Truth/Fact- While the Vicks ad featuring Transgender Gauri sawant as mother and her relationship with her daughter brought tears in eyes of many.Still most people in India argue about transgenders that they can’t be considered mothers because they can’t give birth to babies.In a country,where one who gives love and takes care of a child is respected more than the one who gave birth to child, denying someone the respect to be called mother,just because they can’t give birth to a child is totally inhumane.
One of the sacred text in Hinduism too refers that motherhood has nothing to do with any particular gender,the only thing that matters to be a mother, is a heart filled with love for children.
“ya devi sarvabhuteshu matri-roopein sansthita,
namastasyai, namastasyai ,namastasyai namo namah”
– Devi stuti from Shri-Durga-saptashati.
Meaning- To that divine goddess/divine energy, who abides in all living beings as mother, Salutations,salutations,salutations to thee,again and again.
Thus, even in the religious text, mother is referred to as a feeling of love for children found in entire living being, irrespective of any gender.
Myth/Prejudice- Being transgender/transsexual is a choice,and transsexual persons changes sex to date people of other sex/gender.
Truth/fact- NO,It has already been proved in significant researches that being transgender/transsexual is not a choice.It’s because of the ignorance or lack of awareness regarding transgenders and transsexuals in society that some people still think that being a transgender/transsexual is a choice,unaware of the psychological trauma a transgender/transsexual person goes through everyday.Some people go to the extent of saying that transsexual persons changes sex to date people of other sex/gender.In an era, when we can know about almost everything on search engines or the internet,people must try to know about transgenders/transsexuals and the psychological issues they face, before commenting anything on the topic.While thinking being transgender/transsexual is a choice,is pure ignorance.It’s a fact about transsexuals,that they feel trapped in their own body,where a person who is biologically a male has feelings,emotions and thought process of a female and vice versa.Thus transsexual people undergo sex reassignment surgery because their psychological sex/gender doesn’t aligns with their biological sex/gender,they feel trapped and suffer from depression.Sex reassignment surgery helps them to feel free and be themselves.Also,what most people don’t know is that gender and sexuality are independent of each other.
So,these were some out of many prejudices about transgenders,common in Indian society.which we often come to know while talking to people,but we hardly try to know the truth behind them.
Transgenders of India have lived oppressed lives from a long time.It was only after a hard battle,that they became the third gender.A battle which was mostly fought alone,because many didn’t understood them,as they were unaware and some even ignored their pain and problems because of transphobia.Only knowledge through awareness can end such type of mindsets,because of which many suffer discrimination everyday.
It’s time we support transgender Indians in their struggle for Identity,Equality and Dignity.And one of the way to do it,is by spreading awareness about them and the issues they face.Together we can help each other to create an equal and just society,where every human is treated humanely.
A famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi is quite apt on the struggles of transgenders in Indian society.
“First they ignore you.Then they laugh at you.Then they fight you and then you win.”
– Mahatma Gandhi.