Transgenders/ Hijras in India, who are also known by different names in different parts of India, such as Kinnar, Aravani, Kothi, Shiv-Shakti, Jogtas/Jogappas, etc. In India, total population of transgender is around 4.88 Lakh (as per 2011 census.) Over the past few years, there have been many landmark decisions made with respect to the LGBTQIA+ community. On 15th April 2014, the Supreme Court of India in its ground-breaking decision of National Legal Services Authority vs. Union of India AIR2014SC1863 ("Judgment") declared transgender individuals as distinct from binary genders (i.e. male/female) and as a third gender under the Indian constitution. On 6th September 2018, The Supreme Court of India scrapped section 377 of the Indian penal code which decriminalized homosexuality. Also, Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 was passed by the Parliament on September 26,2019 (though this was unequivocally rejected by the trans community and its allies).
So does this mean all the problems of the Transgender community are solved? No. Not even close.
Transgenders are featured in Hindu mythology. In the myth of Bahuchara, Arjuna, one of the Pandava heroes of the Mahabharata, spends a year at King Virata’s court, disguised as a ‘eunuch’. By referring to individuals of an ambiguous gender status of Arjuna, Amba, Sikhandin, and Rama, Hijras claim that their authentic identity that has existed throughout the history. During Mughal era they enjoyed influential position and had been considered as one of the most important figures in the society but after the British set up in India, their position got altered and are were treated as outcasts.
The truly dichotomous attitude of the society towards them is exhibited by how they are simultaneously marginalized and revered. Their music and dance is considered a blessing at weddings and the birth of boys. People give them money for their benedictions. Their touch on a baby's head is believed to bring great things and their curse is considered even more powerful.
Still, the abuse and discrimination this community faces on a daily basis, is immense. They are marginalized in education, economic opportunity and quality health care.
Many transgenders face gender dysmorphia. It is a conflict between the gender they were assigned at birth and the gender they identify with. This can lead to deep emotional distress. In the first ever study conducted on the human rights of transgenders in India, the National Human Rights Commission has stated that the rights of transgenders is “largely compromised”. Data from several meta-analyses demonstrating that LGBT populations, like the hijra, have a higher prevalence of mental health issues compared with their heterosexual counterparts. One case study also suggested that they were more vulnerable to alcohol and substance abuse disorders compared to the general population.
Economic Opportunities for Transgenders :
Study of human rights of transgenders in India, stated some heartbreaking statistics.
● 96% of transgenders are denied jobs and are forced to take low paying or undignified work for livelihood like badhais, sex work and begging.
● 89% of transgenders said there are no jobs for even qualified ones.
● 50-60% of transgenders have never attended schools and those who did face severe discrimination. NHRC says 52% transgenders were harassed by their classmates and 15% by even teachers, a reason due to which they don't continue studies.
● Only 6% of transgenders are employed in private setors or NGOs.
● Monthly income of only 1% of transgenders is above Rs.25,000; majority-26.35% earn between Rs. 10,000-Rs.15,000.
● 23% are compelled to engage in sex work which has high health related risks. Transgender people are 49 times more at risk of living with HIV compared to the general population
But, the times are changing. An honest effort has been made by the Parliament of India to ensure the inclusiveness of Trans people in employment.
As per the transgender persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019, it prohibits discrimination against a transgender person, including unfair treatment or denial of service in relation to employment, education, healthcare, access to public goods and facilities, etc.
There is also a need for companies to ensure gender sensitization programs to teach the employees what qualifies as transphobic behavior.
Health insurance should provide for gender affirmation surgery, hormone therapy, and other transition- related procedures. This will allow the trans community to be comfortable in their own bodies, assuring contentment and increased productivity.
It is essential for companies to establish training programs to equip the transgenders with skills that are required for employment. This is to make up for the fact that transgenders are less likely to be qualified due to systemic discrimination.
The story of Manobi Bandopadhyay, India’s first transgender college principal, is the manifestation of Indian’s transphobic sentiment. At the end of 2016, after fighting, in her own words, "a long battle against ignorance", Bandopadhyay resigned from her job, citing lack of co-operation of her colleagues as the reason behind her decision.
Positive Changes :
There have been efforts made to ensure transgenders make it to gainful employment.
In 2017, Kerala's Kochi Metro Rail Limited employed 23 transgender persons, while eight out of them quit their jobs within a month due to refusal by several landlords to give them accommodation.
It is essential for companies to provide gender-neutral bathrooms. Although the Centre in 2017 pushed for easier bathroom access for India's third gender by allowing them to use to the restrooms meant for both men and women, there simply is too much discrimination and scrutiny. Companies like IBM, Intel, Tata Steel, Infosys, Goldman Sachs, Cummins, and others have established universal-access restrooms.
The PeriFerry Team
For instance, PeriFerry, a Chennai-based start-up, is working towards the social inclusion of the transgender community, but it has only been able to place 42 trans people in its 14-month existence.
Keshav Suri’s The Lalit group of hotels has hired 10 trans employees and placed them in locations of visibility across its properties.
Mainstreaming of the trans community is also under way in states like Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, with the introduction of skilling programs, voter IDs, free health insurance, and soft loans to set up businesses. Be it VLCC, cafés in Navi Mumbai, Uber Eats or the Chhattisgarh police force—our country is slowly pushing for inclusion, which is a cause for optimism and celebration.
How to be a Trans Ally :
An ally in general, if you take the definition of UC’s Berkeley’s Gender Equity Unit, is "someone who advocates for and supports members of a community other than their own; reaching across differences to achieve mutual goals."
The first and foremost thing we need to understand is that members of the trans community are humans- with dreams, aspirations, and are just as vulnerable and susceptible to feel pain when excluded or blatantly disrespected.
We are not entitled to judge them before walking a mile in their shoes. We should realize that they are forced to take up low paying/undignified work and that we have failed them as a heteronormative patriarchal society.
We have to be mindful and respectful of their struggles. One way to do that is to educate ourselves and those around us, realize our privilege and be empathetic.
Our society has a long way to go before we can truly call it “inclusive”. This change can only happen when the allies join hands with the LGBTQIA+ community and together we shift norms, raise awareness and promote acceptance.
Pothole Raja, a social venture started by Dr. Prathap Bhimesena Rao, also aims at being a trans ally.Pothole Raja has an ambitious mission to empower 500 members of the Trans community and make them full time members. Currently a few are employed but the dream is to increase the number exponentially. Please visit the website https://www.potholeraja.com/ and contribute however you can.
Employee at POTHOLERAJA
PotHoleRaja is a social venture borne to save lives & bring out social awareness about road safety among all the citizens for better India.
The focus is to have accident free roads, saving lives through road safety, fixing potholes, saving millions of road users from breaking their backs, saving crores worth of fuel and using waste materials for sustainable future.
Article By : Sirisha Arava
RV Institute of Technology and Management