“Transgender ke event me ‘taaliyon’ ki kami to nhi honi chahiye [In an event for transgender people, you all shouldn’t hesitate to clap],” said Abhina Aher, a transgender activist and associate director at the HIV-AIDS alliance, an organisation that works for the betterment of the transgender community.
The hall at Hotel Lalit echoed with the loud rhythmic claps of over 200 transgender persons across India. They had assembled for the 8th edition of Hijra Habba – an event which allows the transgender community to directly engage with policymakers and representatives of different institutions like media, health, education, security and so on. It was organised by the HIV-AIDS alliance.
The panel of dignitaries at the event included Dr Camara Bilali (country director, UNAIDS), Dr Sudhir Khandelwal (previously worked at AIIMS), Rajendra Pal Singh (director general of police), Sanjeeva Kumar (additional secretary at NACO), Anoo Bhuyan (Health reporter, The Wire), Gautam Gambhir (BJP MP) and Manoj Tiwari (state president, Delhi)
At the event, transgender persons shared their problems with the panel.
Mocked at hospitals
Ramkali (born as Rizwan) recounted a horrific tale of visiting hospitals and facing negligence and insults at the hands of doctors and other staff.
“When I came to Delhi, I started taking hormone tablets without anyone’s suggestion. There was no one to help. The tablets caused me a lot of harm, but when I visited one hospital, the doctors refused to treat me. Instead, [they] laughed at me and asked if I danced at weddings,” she said.
Furthermore, she faced a lot of difficulties while applying to get health insurance.
“The policy [health insurance] doesn’t have any option for transgender persons. I regularly pay my taxes, vote and fulfill all my duties as an Indian citizen, why isn’t the government doing its duty?” she asked.
Apart from dealing with insensitive doctors on an everyday basis, the transgender community also spoke about being harassed at schools, coaching centres and later at workplaces.
Bullied at schools, harassed at workplaces
Tamannah, who likes doing shayari, described her tumultuous life journey with heart-wrenching poetry.
She spoke at length about being gang-raped in school, teased with derogatory names at her coaching centre and being bullied by her male friends.
“I used to take computer classes and was a very good student, but everyone would call me names like hijra, chhakka, mamu etc. Initially, I ignored [them], but after a point, those words started taking a toll on my mental health and I stopped going to the classes,” she said.
While applying for colleges, she said, the administration refused to give her admission forms saying, “Your presence will ruin the reputation of our college”
Ravina, from Chhattisgarh, faced the same difficulty while taking admission in colleges. However, she didn’t give up and completed her graduation and even managed to find a job at a local PCO.
But the workplace, she said, was not good and she had to face a lot of mental and physical torture.
“Besides addressing me with demeaning names and staring at me, the male employees would send me porn videos at night. I was devastated and had to leave that job and joined a local newspaper. But there, too, I wasn’t treated nicely,” she said.
She spoke about the importance of economic empowerment for the transgender community through appropriate policy intervention.
Denied property rights
Ashwini Rajan from Bangalore spoke about being thrown out of her house at the age of 15 and the other challenges that followed when she started looking for shelter.
“My parents had thrown kerosene at me and would beat me all the time. I had to leave home and years later, I started working at a small organisation. I decided to buy a home on lease and collected Rs 2 lakh for the same. But no one was ready to lease their house,” she said.
Looking for a shelter was also a big ordeal for Reshma Prasad, who came all the way from Bihar to attend the event.
“I have been visiting banks and other places to get my documents made to get a place to live in. But, there is no help. I would like to tell you that we are not included in the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana, nor in any other government schemes,” she said.
The public hearing had voices from other parts of the country too, where they shared difficulties dealing with social isolation, neglect at every level and the denial to avail even basic amenities.
The community suggested policy-based intervention in different areas.
In the health sector, they demanded that doctors and nurses should treat them sensitively and how transgender persons should be allowed to apply for health insurance and life insurance policies.
In education, they said that the school curriculum should have chapters dedicated to the Transgender communities: highlighting their problems and challenges.
They also demanded setting up of counselling centres for those who go through gender dysphoria – a feeling of distress due to their birth-assigned sex not matching their gender identity. Moreover, they appealed for equal property rights and equal opportunities to access other civic facilities – echoing the sentiments of the theme of the event: “All Citizens, Equal Rights.”
The dignitaries patiently listened to their problems. While Dr Sudeep Khandelwal promised to take up their issues with the medical fraternity, Gautam Gambhir and Manoj Tiwari assured that they will consider their suggestions while drafting the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill.
Featured image credit: Pranab Aich