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Why Do Transpersons Still Face Discrimination In Our ‘Just’ Society?

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Image for representation purpose only. Source: Flickr

While travelling in a local train in Maharashtra, I saw people making faces to show utter disgust after a transperson came near us looking for a seat. The worst moment was when a lady sitting across us covered her son’s face with her left hand saying, “Beta, yeh gandey log hotey hai. Inkey taraf kabhi mat dekhna,” she uttered. I did not know why she termed that person as “bad”, I was too small at that time to understand the difference between them and us. My mother pinched me upon my stare, and I looked out of the window of the train. It was 2008, and the words still play like a tape recorder in my mind. It hurts because it is up to God to put a human body into different categories of the group we call “Gender.”

Who Are Transpersons?

The word transgender person or transperson is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned at birth. The modern definition of transgender person came into use in the late 20th century. But the people who fit under this definition have existed in every culture recorded throughout history. Indian culture teaches us to respect every gender and those older to us, then why can’t we adopt this practice for the trans people and see them as equal? While travelling by train, we often come across transwomen who would come to bless us. Our society accepts that a transwoman’s blessing is heavenly, then why can’t we accept them as equals in our society. We get their blessings and in turn, punish them by abandoning them and classifying them as a shame to our society.

The Neglected Issue Of Rape Of A Transperson

We always hear the news about rape and how unsafe India is becoming for women, but we do not realize that it is equally unsafe for transwomen too. While thinking about writing on this sensitive issue, I came across an article which reported an incident of the rape of an Indian transgender woman. It took her more than four years to seek justice, “India sees a furore every time there’s a rape case, but not for me–I wasn’t born a woman,” said Khushi. She adds, “When a transgender woman gets raped in this country, cops first mock her, saying she doesn’t have the organs to be sexually assaulted; and what follows is a barrage of injustices—perhaps greater than the first one.”

It is a matter of concern that transwomen stay in a society which not only abandons them but also rapes them. They cry their hearts out, but ears turn deaf towards their concerns and pain. Tranpersons keep on asking for acceptance, for help, for respect, but the pain in their hearts and their feelings are ignored. Fear and chill run through my veins as I read such heartbreaking articles. The pain they bear, the harassment they have to go through, the tears which hurt them constantly and the constant ringing of the words, “Why has God created us like this and punished us?” The truth is that God did not punish them, we did. God just made them slightly different from others, and we are having a hard time overcoming our biases.

Can We Hope For A Positive Approach Towards Transpersons?

Transgender activist Joyita Mondal.

The government measures towards the transpersons are changing the mentality of people and giving them opportunities to showcase their talent. Joyita Mondal is the first transwomen to be the judge of a Lok Adalat and a social worker from West Bengal. Just like Joyita, many transpersons are doing well in their particular field of interest. And just like us, they deserve equal opportunities to showcase their talent. It’s time we stopped looking away from them and start accepting accept them with open hands and heart.

Generally, it is seen that in our country, discrimination cuts across religion, region and gender. Reports show heavily ingrained prejudice that often forces transpersons to run away from their homes in their teens, or they are thrown out by their families. They are to assimilate in a community that has refused to provide them with education or jobs; they often turn to beg on the streets or prostitution.

Personal hygiene of a ‘normal’ person is being promoted in our country, but not that of transpersons. Due to this, when they are out of their houses for hours, they need to control their bladders, which leads to increased chances of serious infection. Some trans people avoid going out at all just for the same reason. They fall ill and go through some major life-risking diseases which are not being cured at a faster rate, at least for them. Being abandoned is hurtful, but more hurtful are innocent trans lives that come to an end due to a lack of proper hygiene.

Even with discrimination, lack of affirmative action and poor understanding of culture, the government has checked some boxes to improve their lives. They should further work towards steps to improve this sensitive scenario. India is a democratic country, but transpersons have been discriminated. They respect every individual and help people in trouble, but are we doing the same for them? I think they are a blessing in disguise for our Indian culture. If we can ask them to bless us, then can’t we respect them equally as a part of our community? If more people stay happily together in a society, the more happy and healthy our country will be.

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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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