Transgender people are individuals whose gender identities do not pertain to their biological sex, and thus they differ from the stereotype of how men and women normally are. ‘Transgender’ does not include sexual orientation or physical sex characteristics, but is in fact a less clinical term which pertains to gender identity and gender expression. Thus transgender people encompass those people whose identity and behaviour do not adhere to the stereotypical gender norms. They may be gay, transsexual, transvestite, or gender queer.
Since the beginning of time and the existence of mankind, transgenders have been very much a part of the society. It is just that they have been given a name and a status in the society in recent times, and now there is even medical technology available especially for them.
Transgenders in India
In India, transgender people include hijras/ kinnars (eunuchs), shiv-shaktis, jogappas, Sakhi, jogtas, Aradhis etc. In fact, there are many who do not belong to any of the groups but are transgender persons individually. Transgenders fall under the LGBT group (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender). They constitute the marginalised section of the society in India, and thus face legal, social as well as economic difficulties.
The problems faced by the transgender people in India include:
- These people are shunned by family and society alike.
- They have restricted access to education, health services and public spaces.
- Till recently, they were excluded from effectively participating in social and cultural life.
- Politics and decision-making processes have been out of their reach.
- Transgender people have difficulty in exercising their basic civil rights.
- Reports of harassment, violence, denial of services, and unfair treatment against transgender persons have come to light.
- Sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is criminalised, and is punishable by incarceration.
In a landmark judgement in 2014, the Supreme Court observed that “The transgender community, generally known as “Hijras” in this country, are a section of Indian citizens who are treated by the society as “unnatural and generally as objects of ridicule and even fear on account of superstition”. In its judgement, the Supreme Court passed the ruling that “In view of the constitutional guarantee, the transgender community is entitled to basic rights i.e. Right to Personal Liberty, dignity, Freedom of expression, Right to Education and Empowerment, Right against violence, Discrimination and exploitation and Right to work. Moreover, every person must have the right to decide his/her gender expression and identity, including transsexuals, transgenders, hijras and should have right to freely express their gender identity and be considered as a third sex.” Thus, today the transgender people in India are considered to be the Third Gender.
Ruling Vs Acceptance
The story of Shivvy, born as Shivani Bhatt, recently hit the headlines. An 18-year-old transgender, Shivvy was shifted to India from the U.S under false pretexts, once the parents came to know that he was a transgender. Shivvy’s passport was confiscated by the parents. However, Shivvy was able to approach Delhi High Court, and thus received help in obtaining back the passport to return home to the U.S. However, not all the transgender population in India is as lucky, as the parents, due to lack of information, remain unprepared for such an eventuality and thus go into denial. Hemangi Mhaprolkar, a clinical psychologist says, ““Parents of transgender individuals tend to be in denial. They feel that this can’t be happening to their children. There is shame associated with the issue. They worry about what people will say or if at all the society will accept their child.”
However, all is not lost. There are also more optimistic stories like that of Soumya Gupta, born a boy, who later realised that she was a girl trapped in the body of a boy. Her parents gave her full support, and even gave consent for a sex change operation.
Journey from Marginal to Mainstream
Within the Third Gender population, one can come across many stories of grit and determination where a transgender did not allow societal pressure decide their fate. Here, are a few exceptional examples of transgender individuals who have written their own success stories with the help of their endowment, hard work, dedication and perseverance:
- Kalki Subramaniam: With two masters’ degrees, Kalki is a social activist and a journalist. She also made her debut as an actress in the movie Narthaki-Life of a Transgender Woman. Kali has also founded the Sahodari foundation which supports the transgender community.
- Padmini Prakash: Padmini is a trained Kathak dancer and also a vocal artist. She was awarded the title of Miss Transgender of India. Padmini acts in TV serials and is a popular face on a news channel.
- Madhu Bai Kinnar: Madhu was disowned by her parents and expelled from home. However, destiny had other things in store for her. She became the first citizen of Raigarh in Chattisgarh. She earns her living as a folk dance performer.
- Bharathi: Again disowned by parents, Bharathi had a tough life after being ostracised by the society. But sheer will power and grit saw her change the course of her life. She baptized to Christianity, completed a bachelor’s degree in Theology, and today she is a pastor at the Evangelist church of India, and conducts weddings.
- Manabi Bandyopadhyay: Manabi is the author of a bestseller novel, Endless Bondage, based on hijras (eunuchs). She is an associate professor in Bengali at Vivekananda Satobarshiki Mahavidyalaya and is soon slated to take charge as the principal of Krishnanagar Women’s College.
Each being in this Universe is indeed unique, and an integral part of Nature. It would thus be wrong to judge and discriminate people who may be different from the stereotype, which again is man-made. It is time that India realised that every individual in this country has equal rights and privileges, and follow the policy of “live and let live.”