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Spotlight: The Experience of Being Transgender in India

“We just didn’t fit in those boxes of male and female and then we became an outbox for everybody in the society.” (Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, transgender activist)

The transgender community includes some of the most vulnerable people in our society starving for social identity and social acceptance. In India, we are only ever taught about two genders: male and female. Transgender people are often seen as inferior; they are treated worse than beggars and are often viewed as thieves.  “Due to stereotypes, we are often portrayed as criminals; nobody talks about what happens to trans people.” (Rachana Mudraboyina, a transgender activist). Despite the fact that over 2 million of India’s population are transgender, they still have to fight on a daily basis for their voice to be recognised by the masses. In a society built solely on judgement and stereotypes, there are still some extremely inspirational transgender people who have broken down these barriers and have proved that their talent and hard work has nothing to do with their gender.

  1. Rudrani Chettri- a transgender activist who opened India’s first transgender modelling agency

Transgender activist Rudrani Chettri spearheads Mitr Trust in Delhi and opened the first Indian transgender modelling agency called Bold in 2015. Rudrani reflected on how a personal incident in her life affected her deeply. After being denied entry to a mall where a man told her ‘there is nothing available for people like you’, Rudrani realised how the idea behind opening up a model agency is deeply rooted in her personal experience of stigmatization and the feeling of ‘frustration’ which she and other transgender people had to face. “For some reason, it is understood that people like me cannot participate in any so- called ‘normal’ activity,” she said. With the motto of “you’re beautiful irrespective of your gender”, Bold was found. “My dogs never discriminate, why must you? You’re intelligent beings.” Chettri said, beaming. She is an inspiration to many who have wanted to go into similar fields but have been denied a place because of their gender and identity.

  1. Joyita Mondal- From  school dropout to India’s first transgender judge

Born and brought up in a Hindu household, Joyita had to overcome a lot of obstacles and face heavy discrimination to have her own identity as a trans women. “I didn’t tell my family that I was unable to take the verbal bullying by other boys in my school. I just told my mother I had got a job in Dinajpur, a neighbouring district in the state, and wanted to go there. I told her that I would come back in two months if things didn’t work out, and she consented.” Joyita recalled bitter memories of how she dropped out of school when she was 15, had to sleep at a bus stand and beg on streets.  Through fighting for the rights of trans people, over time, she started working for the rights of anyone and everyone facing any kind of social discrimination. She completed her studies through correspondence and got herself a degree in law. In 2010, she was the first trans person from her district to get a voter ID. Later, Joyita started her organisation, Dinajpur Notun Alo Society, that is currently reaching out to and helping thousands of people in her district.   

  1. Manabi Bandhopadhyay- India’s first transgender college principal

“For me, it’s a long battle against ignorance. There was a time when I and even my father was threatened with consequences as I am a transgender. I spent my childhood in Nadia, and I came back to my home with pride and dignity after a long battle.” Manabi reflected on how humiliating it was for her to live under those conditions and be someone who she wasn’t. Despite the constant ridicule, she channelled all her energy and dedication in academics and continued to excel with flying colours. After completing her MA in Bengali, she became the first transgender person to get a PhD in her state. Soon after, she became a lecturer and started a magazine, Ob-Manab, especially made for trans people. A Few years later, she was made the college principal at Krishnagar Women’s College in Nadia district. Manabi aims to be an inspiration to her students and wishes to spread the importance of education amongst others as well.

  1. K. Prithika Yashini, India’s first transgender police officer

After fighting social dogma, gender bias and many glass ceilings, K Prithika Yashini became the first transgender to be appointed as a police officer in Tamil Nadu. Yashini attempted to achieve a next to impossible goal by applying to become a police officer despite knowing that the police force is filled with male chauvinism. Many couldn’t even digest her bold move of applying for the force. Her application was rejected stating that there were only two columns under which she can restrict her gender identity: either ‘male’ or ‘female’ but she went ahead and filled it as ‘transgender’. This led to a legal battle and finally citing a court order she won the battle against ‘Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board’.

  1. The 6 Pack Band

From not being accepted by their families to getting global recognition by winning the coveted Cannes Grand Prix Glass Lion award – Six Pack Band, India’s first transgender band, has been on a roll. The six band members are Asha Jagtap, Bhavika Patil, Chandni Suvarnakar, Fida Khan, Komal Jagtap, and Ravina Jagtap. The six transgender artists were selected from a group of around 200 who auditioned to be a part of the band. “We see eunuchs at traffic signals begging for a living. No one hires them; there is no dignity for them as they are abandoned by family and society.” Asha explained how the band aims to bring positivity and sunshine into today’s gloomy world. They aim to make the society an ideal place to live in for every person irrespective of their gender, caste and background.

But the stories do not end here. There are endless stories where transgender people have empowered themselves in a hostile society by excelling in their respective fields. Be it standing up for elections, or becoming a soldier, or pursuing a career in STEM, the community has constantly silenced social media trolls. India has a long road ahead to gender justice, and the transgender community wants serious efforts made to bring about legal reform so that they are as free and empowered in their public and private lives as any other citizen of India.

“Society tried to put us aside, but the society is my world”- Laxmi Narayan Tripathi.

Trans Lives Matter everywhere and we must understand that until every single one of them is safe, no one can truly be safe. It is a long journey, but the transgender community is willing to fight until the crimes and inequalities against them are recognized by the government and the society lets go of these stereotypes.

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