Activists step up fight for transgender rights in India

Transgenders and intersex individuals have the same rights as every other citizen of India, says activist fighting for their dignity

New Delhi/Hyderabad: She sounds like a woman, yet identifies herself as a man. Pushpa aka Vivek, 36, is a trans-man. Biologically a woman, she wants to be a man. “Please call me Vivek, as I changed my name two years ago,” she says.

Her habit of wearing shorts and tees and keeping her hair short when she was young displeased her family no end. “They insisted I wear frocks and grow my hair. Not following the diktats led to beatings. My brother wanted me to get married and live like a woman, but I could not feel or act feminine; I faced an identity crisis,” said Vivek.

After her father died, the pressure on her to behave like a woman mounted. So she ran away from home and took up work at a real estate agent’s office.

Vivek finds herself at the crossroads today. A gold medalist, having represented Delhi state in judo over a decade ago, she said, “I couldn’t go to college due to financial constraints. My employment chances are bleak, as my brother burnt all my school certificates.”

Has she ever considered sex reassignment surgery? Vivek laughed, “I am from an underprivileged section of society. We do not have enough to eat, how can I think about surgery? I work with an NGO and take care of my 80-year-old mother’s medical expenses. I am also fighting a court case against my brother, who tried to seize the family property.”

Hers is but one story among the thousands of others in India, of individuals who are relegated to the margins of society owing to their biological and psychological differences. These individuals, many of them transgenders, as well as from the inter sex category, lead a life that is highly visible and yet out of focus for the general public. But there is hope as increasingly, campaigners are coming forward to fight for their rights.

One of these is Hyderabad-based Vyjayanti Vasanth Mogli, a transgender and campaigner.

A commerce graduate, Mogli has written extensively in the media and done research on the problems of the community.

Born as a boy, she struggled with gender issues from early childhood. At 15, her father threw her out of the house. “I had started meeting and talking to the transgender people at the age of 12,” she said. “Occasionally, I used to stay with my relatives or at my parent’s place and during one such stay, I found myself tied with a rope, admitted to a mental hospital by my father.

“At the age of 20, I was again forced to undergo medical treatment to change my behaviour. After this, I fled to Mumbai, where after many difficulties, I graduated with a commerce qualification and got a job with BPO. When in 2014, the Supreme Court of India declared transgender people as a third gender, I came out and declared my identity as a transgender. It shocked my colleagues and I lost my job,” Mogli said.

Four things, she said, will usher in the real change for the third gender people: “Respect us, train us, employ us wherever possible, and give us equal opportunity. Remember, what separates us from you is just opportunity.”

Sylvie, a 58-year-old hairdresser born Sylvester Henry Jude Rodgers, is probably the first celebrity transgender in India, who came out in the open three decades ago defying all societal norms. Sylvie has an impressive list of qualifications – an MBBS from London, a Masters’ in cosmetology and a diploma in beauty and hair. She opened a beauty salon called Sylvie in New Delhi.

“I live on my own terms,” she says. “So these new found (transgender) rights don’t make any sense or difference to me, as I see no change in mindsets. India requires a lot more education on this front.”

For Mumbai-based transgender Aaditya Batavia, 28, (Dolly was his name earlier), before he could go through the expensive surgery and treatment to become a man, he had to find himself a job, which wasn’t easy.

“I was rejected because of the way I dressed and eventually told my present company, a learning and development firm, that I would be going through a transition,” he says. Though qualified as a neuro-linguistic practitioner, he doesn’t expect his career to soar any time soon.


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