Travelling in the busy Mumbai local, stands a tall woman in a saree with bangles and jewellery adorning her features. She is at the corner, looking outside while the women next to her try to stay away. Little by little, they move and start making faces to show that their day has been cursed.
While I was standing on the opposite side in the midst of the busy crowd, as a student, I could not fathom the expressions on the faces of my co-passengers. Then, a station came and everyone, including me, started moving and life went on.
Almost a year later, on a usual Sunday at a Photo Studio, I was editing images to be sent for printing. My boss called me to introduce me to a lady in black south cotton saree with golden border, bangles in hand and a warm welcoming face.
During our brief conversation, she inquired about my career choices, future plans and love for photography. I found her to be well educated with a bachelor in humanities; she was fluent in English and Hindi too. She loved getting clicked, and my boss showed me her pictures on our display walls as sample photographs.
Just before she left, my boss took out a 10 rupee note and handed it to her. She said thank you and went away. My mind was curious to know about the money when there was no transaction.
He explained to me that she was a trans woman; she was educated, qualified for work but not accepted as an equal human being; hence, she had no option but to beg to meet her ends.
This conversation led to a dilemma within me because of the upbringing that I had at school and through my grandma; it was always focused on finding similarities that unite us as a nation, that makes us human. But the society that I was starting to experience was quite the opposite. This society focused on differences and rarely on similarities.
Time moved on and so did I. Despite changing roles from being a student to a social researcher in the social development sector, I still could not do much to change the scenario for the trans community living in this world just because there was no recognition for them on documents until 2014.
In 2014, the NALSA judgment brought the lens of treating the transpersons as equals. Although it recognized them as the ‘third-gender’, the judgment made it possible for the discrimination to reduce. The judgment was positive to an extent. It gave some power through recognition, the formation of a welfare board and for other welfare schemes, but it failed to address the default label of them being called as ‘criminals’ due to the draconian law – Section 377.
In 2018, Section 377 was taken down due to the strong push from the community and its allies. It resulted in bringing down the default label of a ‘criminal’, especially for the members from the non-binary community because of their choice to love each other with consent. This win bought legal relief from atrocities faced by the community and gave them the right to live and cherish their lives as free individuals.
In 2019, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act came, but it has its exclusive perspective, which looks at the community with unequal eyes as opposed to a cisgender individual. It is yet to be accepted wholeheartedly because of its partiality and lacks the expertise to be implemented without bias.
You might be wondering why am I writing these anecdotes and history. Well, it is solely because ‘it is our ignorance and fear that has led to the discrimination of people who do not fit into the binaries of gender or in the monotone of sexuality’.
The laws in India partially give the LGBTQIA+ community the right to live, love, survive to an extent, but there is a huge gap in terms of being accepted as a part of society and thrive as individuals. There is a lack of sensitivity, awareness and acceptance for the non-binary language, curriculum and life roles leading them to facing discrimination at every moment in their lives.
The battle continues for the basic right to live with dignity, equity and equality among the LGBTQIA community.
As a fellow ‘changemaker’ in the She Creates Change Program of Change.org Foundation, I started with an online campaign in 2019, for an Inclusive Manifesto in the Lok Sabha Elections of 2019. It became a reality by receiving the support from more than 13K people and received a positive response from national and state parties. It awaits its full implementation, but I am not giving up. As an individual, my purpose is to sensitize people and spread awareness so that ignorance can be battled and removed from society.
I came out of my ‘closet of fear’ of the trans community and found friends that have opened their hearts, and inspired me to learn. They have supported me to fight this battle for equality. Today, for me, inclusion is a must at home, in education, society, policy and politics. I truly believe that ‘zero discrimination’ is only one step away if we change our perspective from that of a sympathetic to an empathetic human being.
I hope my story inspires you to think, ask, research a little on how you can practice living with each other as humans first and not by any other labels that are inhuman.