If you ask people in India what they know about trans people, most of them only answer that they have seen them begging near traffic signals and inside trains. Some start complaining about their ‘bad’ behavior.
This is the harsh reality for many trans people in India. But the fact we often ignore or don’t even realise is that directly or indirectly, we, as a society, are responsible for their condition. Being disowned by their own families and harsh treatments from other people in society leads to their so called ‘bad’ behavior. Lack of access to education and non-availability of jobs often forces them to take to begging and prostitution.
But still, amidst all these adversities, there are some transgender persons who are brave enough to make their way to the mainstream, achieve their goals and prove that trans people are as capable and deserving as any other Indian, thus breaking the stereotype.
It takes a lot of strength for trans people to come to terms with who they are. Many trans people feel depressed when they are figuring out how to deal with gender misalignment or dysphoria. Trying to achieve their dreams in a country where people routinely mock and harass them makes their life even more difficult. Some people are polite enough and feel sympathy or pity towards trans people but never do anything helpful for them. This ignorance and lack of understanding about transgender persons 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 trans people, along with laws protecting them from any kind of harassment.
Trans people have always been a part of Indian culture, though they had to suffer a lot during colonial rule due to Victorian laws. After independence, while most Indians celebrated a life of dignity and equality, trans people were left on the margins of society, along with other members of LGBT community.
As they were more visible, unlike other members of LGBT community, they were often mistreated and harassed, because of a deep rooted patriarchal mindset which was also influenced by the views of Britishers towards gender identity and norms.
Anybody questioning such norms 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 trans people got legal recognition by the Supreme Court, but still, there is a lot of work to be done in terms of social recognition, equality, dignity and social awareness. There’s been a slow start towards achieving this aim after the NALSA (National Legal Service Authority v. Union of India) judgement.
When we look back in history, in Hindu mythology, there were trans people who were called Kinnars. They were placed 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, created by merging Shiva and Parvati is worshiped in Hinduism. During Mughal rule in India, trans people were given important posts of security and decision making. It’s really sad that it took so long for trans people to get their legal recognition in India.
The term transgender is an umbrella term which includes binary trans men and women, non-binary people, genderqueer persons and gender non-conforming persons. To be simple, it refers to someone whose gender doesn’t match with the gender that was assigned to them at birth. This feeling of misalignment causes what is called ‘gender dysphoria’.
After the NALSA judgement which gave trans people legal recognition, it was thought that trans people would now be treated equal by society, and this would be followed by spreading awareness through all mass media sources. They would also be given education and employment opportunities, so that they could get a respectful position in society.
But the reality is that the Transgender Rights Bill 2014, which was passed in the Rajya Sabha, but was later deformed and introduced in the Lok Sabha by the present ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) government in the year 2016 has not yet been passed. The attitude of political leaders toward trans people has been that of hypocrisy. Politicians who use Indian citizens as vote banks feel uneasy to bring any significant positive change in society due to the fear of loosing their votes. Thus, even when India is a democratic and so called inclusive country, the fate of minorities is left in the hands of the majority, which often creates more hurdles.
Due to the absence of any legal protection and the lack of nationwide social awareness, trans people in India still suffer a lot of violence and harassment. Recently, a trans woman, Sabi Giri, who had been posted as a sailor in the Indian Navy, was sacked from her job because of her transition. This was done without considering a transfer in other departments. India’s first trans woman principal Manabi Bandyopadhyay resigned from her job because her colleagues were non-cooperative. Shanavi Ponnusamy was refused a job in Air India due to her being trans. Incidents like these are still happening, while the Transgender Rights Bill is still under process.
Amidst all this darkness, we also received some good news. India got its first trans woman IPS officer – K Prithika Yashini. Joyita Mondal became a Lok Adalat (civil court) judge. Anjali Ameer became the first trans actress to play a lead role and Nitasha Biswas was crowned as trans queen, India. No doubt, their journeys must have been difficult. Their achievements have given adequate answers to people who thought trans people are incapable. While the struggle for equality and dignity is still going on, more awareness is needed in Indian society, so that the young generation of trans people, who are yet to come out or are still questioning their gender identity don’t have to suffer due to prejudices and ignorance towards trans people.
Moving further, let’s have a look at some of the common prejudices and myths popular in India regarding the transgender community, which directly or indirectly affect transgender people in a very negative way.
This is far from the truth. While those who are ignorant and insensitive often use Hijra as a derogatory term to mock and abuse effeminate boys and transgender individuals, what most people in India don’t realise is that the hijra community is a socio-cultural community comprising of transgender people who may belong to India and even a few neighbouring countries. They have their own set of rules and customs, and only a transgender person who accepts to become a part of this community can only be called a Hijra. Thus, every transgender person is not a Hijra.
While many trans people have been successful in breaking the prejudice surrounding them, in several parts of India, people still believe in stereotypes and refuse to give jobs to trans people. Not only is a lot of awareness needed regarding this, but proper education and skills should be imparted to trans people so that they can become a productive workforce. Many trans people drop out of school/college because they suffer bullying and harassment. There is not only ignorance among students, but teachers as well. This 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 cisgender Indian.
This is one of the most common prejudices 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 through the eyes of society often don’t realise that to be progressive, a society needs to evolve and necessary changes need to be made with time as we learn new things. It is our responsibility to make it better, more inclusive and progressive by ushering in the necessary changes.
The views of society towards an individual, a group or a community starts from us, because we are a part of society. If we change our mindsets and become rational and understanding, sooner or later, the mindset of society as a whole becomes more rational, progressive and inclusive.
For example, a few decades back, due to some prejudices surrounding a girl child, girls were not seen as equal to boys, nor were they given higher education and opportunities. They were also forced to marry when they wanted to pursue higher studies and become independent by doing jobs. But as we all know, some parents stood out and supported their girls to pursue higher studies and achieve their dreams.
Girls too proved themselves to be deserving – capable of working at higher posts and achieving every dream once told to be impossible for them. So, when society stood opposed to them, those parents stood by their children and set examples through their children, thus helping in creating a better and more equal society. Now, we know that the mindset of people towards a 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 start understanding their transgender child, they would realise that there is nothing wrong with their child. The real problem is with the mindset of society, which needs to be changed. And for that, they should provide their transgender children with as much love, care and education like they would to any cisgender child, so that they can become independent and achieve their dreams. If this happened, then the prejudices surrounding transgender children today would take no time to leave Indian society.
The Vicks advertisement – which featured trans woman Gauri Sawant as a mother and showcased her relationship with her daughter – brought tears to the eyes of many. Still, most people in India argue that a trans woman can’t be considered a mother 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 texts in Hinduism too says that motherhood has nothing to do with any particular gender. The only thing that matters is a heart filled with love for children.
“ya devi sarvabhuteshu matri-roopein sansthita
namastasyai, namastasyai ,namastasyai namo namah
(To that divine goddess/divine energy, who abides in all living beings as mother, Salutations, salutations, salutations to thee, again and again)”
– Devi stuti from “Durga Saptashati”
No, it has already been proved in significant researches that being transgender is not a choice. It’s because of ignorance or lack of awareness regarding trans people in society that some people still think that being transgender is a choice. They are unaware of the psychological trauma a transgender person goes through everyday.
Some people go to the extent of saying that trans people change their sex to date people of other the other gender. In an era, when we can know about almost everything through search engines on the internet, people should try to know more about trans people before commenting anything on the topic. Thinking that being trans is a choice is pure ignorance. Not all trans people undergo surgery but some do to get a better sense of alignment with their gender. 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.
Trans people in India have lived oppressed lives for a long time. It was only after a hard battle that they gained legal recognition. A battle which was mostly fought alone, because many didn’t understand them. Many were unaware and some even ignored their pain and problems because of transphobia. Only knowledge through awareness can end such 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 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 trans people in Indian society – “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you and then you win.”