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The Price That Transgender Folk Pay To Accept And Assert Their Identity

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Trigger Warning: Transphobia, sexual assault, and murder

On 15th January 2019, when 21-years-old Alka left her place to visit the Tattapani festival ground in Balrampur, Chhattisgarh, did she realise that this would be her last day? When she met two men, Saurabh Gupta and Shahshank Gupta there, did she realise that one of them is an alleged rapist and that these two men will mercilessly murder her? Did she realise the kind of danger she was in? Did she realise that she was going to die when they took a huge rock and crushed her genitalia? We can never know the answers to these questions because Alka is no more.

Alka was a young transgender woman, who had left her home at the age of 16 and was living on her own. She was killed allegedly because the two men realised that Alka was not a cisgender woman but a transgender woman. They felt so angry that they decided to punish Alka by mutilating her genitalia and then killing her. How dare she present herself as a ‘woman’? How dare she ‘cheat’ these men who wanted to fulfill their lust? How dare she exist? And thus, they allegedly decided to cease Alka’s existence as a woman, forever.

This had happened in Chhattisgarh, at Tattapani, which is a hot-water spring where tourists throng especially during Makar Sankranti. An eerily similar incident happened just a few days after this incident in the buzzing and modern city of Delhi.

A 21-year-old transgender woman was given a lift by two men in a cab on the midnight of January 20, 2019, from Trilokpuri to Barapullah. The duo allegedly tried to sexually assault her in the car. When she declined the duo, Sagar Kumar and Chandra Kant, were reportedly so enraged that they shot her in the abdomen and threw her out of the moving car. Fortunately, she survived.

Violence against people from the transgender community is not new. The British infamously registered and controlled Indian transgender persons under the guise of The Criminal Tribes Act, 1971 which considered Hijras (called ‘Eunuchs’ in the Act, a derogatory term referring to castrated men) as criminals and barred them from dressing as women or engaging in their traditional activities. Violence was perpetrated against them as they were considered a threat to British culture and polity. However, the Hijras survived the crushing British Rule.

NEW DELHI, INDIA DECEMBER 28: Members and supporters of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community shout slogans during a protest to stop the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, at Jantar Mantar, on December 28, 2018 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Amal KS/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Cut to 2019, the government of the Republic of India, a constitutional parliamentary, socialist, secular, republic, which is the largest democracy of the world, and which is bound to protect the values of equality, justice, liberty, and fraternity, enacted the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 despite protests against it by the Transgender community.

The Act trivialises sexual abuse and violence against transgender persons and offers a reduced punishment ranging from 6 months to 2 years for offences against transgender persons, while similar offences against women are awarded a much higher quantum of punishment up to life imprisonment. How can then one expect the law to act as a deterrent to the violence against the transgender community?

Every year across the world numerous transgender persons are murdered simply because of who they are. A much higher number faces sexual and physical violence, which often goes unreported. Most often the violence is done by their own families and partners. This is the price that transgender folk pay to accept and assert their identity. This is the price they pay for simply existing.

Image source: Devesh Khatu/Facebook

As we celebrated the Day of non-violence and peace on January 30, on the occasion of death anniversary of the biggest proponent of non-violence in the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi, and pledge to carry forward the legacy of Ahimsa, it is time to ponder and reflect upon the violence perpetrated against transgender folk, and how we can create a future where every transgender person feels safe and secure and doesn’t think of being murdered every single living day of their life.

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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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