“When I was in college, my friends were curious to find out what a sex organ of a transgender looks like. They gheraoed me in the bathroom and started pulling out my clothes. After an hour of putting up a resistance, I was raped. Covered in semen, I went to the principal and demanded justice. His reply was ‘If only you had behaved more like a man, this would not have happened.’”
“Most people tell me that people are offset by the anomaly that is us. Our behavior irks them. But have you questioned why we are like this? We only want to be loved and accepted. When the society rejects us on so many fronts, this is how we retaliate. Being a transgender is not easy. People laugh at you, discriminate against you. You don’t have access to employment, buses, public toilets, office spaces. In the absence of employment opportunities, we are left with two alternatives: sex -work and begging.”
These are just a couple of snippets from the eye-opening session that was taken by Dr. Akkai Padmashali, a transgender rights activist and founder-member of ‘Ondede’ (meaning ‘convergence’ in Kannada), an organisation that aims to create awareness about sexuality, sexual diversity and the right to choose one’s sexual orientation. She was invited as a Guest Speaker for our Business, Government and Society Lecture at IIM Bangalore.
In India, trans communities have a renowned history. Revered in sacred Hindu texts, for centuries they performed blessings at marriage and birth ceremonies to bring good fortune. Later in the 19th century, under the British Raj, came their criminalization. Any “cross-dresser” was to be registered and if repeat offenses were committed, imprisoned. And though these laws were eventually repealed, societal ostracism proved the hangover. Today, hijras are still subject to transphobic discrimination-associated violence, poverty, and segregation.
Now globalization and rights movements across the world are sensitizing people to their conditions. But for an isolated community subject to age-old prejudices, how much did this visibility encourage societal tolerance?
For the most part, it didn’t.
Evidently, there will always be a difference between policy and reality. All the excerpts above paint a vivid picture of continuing transphobic discrimination, profoundly rooted in society and culture. But importantly, points to a general lack of understanding of transgenderism; even a distrust of anyone not cisgender.
K Prithika Yashini (the first Indian, transgender police officer) and Manabi Bandopadhyay (the first transgender person in India to complete a Ph.D.) are too few instances and far in between.
Quest is trying to add on to the discussion and the efforts seem to be starting conversations on campus. Today, we believe awareness starts with acknowledgment and then visibility. We sincerely hope this is just the beginning and that these initiatives remain sustainable.
Article by Guest Contributor: Dattatreya Chowdhary, PGP 2017-2019, IIM Bangalore