Transgender is not a term we recognise easily in our country, neither the people who bear that identity. For most of us, they belong to an alien species who tap at our car windows annoyingly during traffic jams and bombard upon us their claps and blessings in trains.
But we have hardly ever tried to find out the actual meaning of the term or what being a transgender means. Dictionary describes the term as a person whose gender identity differs from what the person was assigned at birth or what sex organ the person possesses physically by birth. By definition, people with such features have existed forever in the history of human civilisation.
But in contemporary usage, it is used as a widespread umbrella term, including but not limited to transsexuals, cross-dressers and a whole bunch of other people whose physical and behavioural attributes do not conform to the stereotypical gender norms. A large number of countries across the world recognise the third gender and their rights socially as well as officially, but in India, we just call them ‘hijra’ and cringe our noses.
To say that transgenders are not recognised in our country would be an understatement. Even though on paper, they should have all the rights that socially accepted genders get. Under Article 14 of the Constitution, they deserve ‘equality’, Article 15 speaks of prohibition of discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, origin or sex and Article 21 ensures right to one’s privacy and personal dignity.
In a landmark judgement on April 15, 2014, the Supreme Court of India declared transgenders as a third gender and directed the Central and State governments to grant legal recognition to the third gender identity. It included all the civil rights like proper healthcare, legal support, identification in official documents and so on so forth.
But all of this is a moot point unless they are actively applied.
Starting right from being disowned and ousted from their own family, mocked and ridiculed even by acquaintances and rejection from having basic rights like healthcare, education and employment, it goes a long way southwards. The discriminations lie in the smallest of things – refusal by co-passengers to travel together in a public transport, refusal to share a public bathroom and even physical and sexual assault and violence – the transgenders of India have seen it all. When we wonder why those ‘annoying’ and ‘weird’ people are knocking on our windows, it is because they are often left with no other option but to beg.
But rays of hope are visible here and there. Recently, Kerala, being one of the most developed states of the country, came up with a number of development programmes for the transgender community. The state government started a transgender education programme, hosted the first-ever transgender beauty pageant and Kochi metro recruited 23 transgender people who were earning their livelihood begging on the roads before.
Also a number of states like West Bengal, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu have set up Transgender Development/Welfare Boards.
As a special deserving mention, Dr Manabi Bandopadhyaye – a transgender from West Bengal –made history when she was appointed the principal of Krishnagar Women’s College in Nadia in June, 2015 – a milestone for the community. Born Somnath Banerjee, the youngest son in a middle-class family in Naihati (North 24 Parganas district), Manabi Bandopadhyay underwent a sex-change operation in 2003. But she had to resign from her post soon, and in various interviews, she mentioned non-cooperation from fellow teachers and authority as a reason.
Another such path-breaking incident from the south of the country had kept the news channels busy in the recent times. Prithika Yashini of Tamil Nadu, born as Pradeep Kumar, first fought a long battle to successfully go through a sex reassignment operation and fix her identity; and then a whole new social as well as legal battle at the court to finally become the first transgender in India to be appointed in the police force. In a profession filled with chauvinism, achievement of this next to impossible dream by Prithika is a huge boost to the entire transgender community.
So clearly, even a Supreme Court ruling does not help if the concept of acceptance is not imbibed by the common people. Moreover, the existence of Section 377, barring Indians to be involved in any form of sexual activity which is ‘against the order of the nature’, or in more rational words, other than heterosexuality, is in itself contradictory to the ruling.
So the bottomline is, to fight and eradicate a hatred, or to mute it down a little – a discrimination embedded so deep into the majority’s conscience, rulings and declarations by authorities is just not enough. The transgenders live within the society, they are a part of the crowd but as long as the crowd is unaccepting of this very truth, it will not be of much help.