Wrapped up in the trimmings of a man was a phoenix waiting to be reborn. Twenty five-year-old Mahima (name changed) is among the many transgender women in the city waiting to give love and be treated with humanity and dignity.
Prabhu Mallikarjunan finds out more
Mahima is one of the lucky few among gender minorities to have a recognised job and earn a livelihood doing administrative work. This, by all means, has made her wear a smile and reduced dependency on sex work and begging.
But, the journey wasn’t easy for Mahima as she fought her way through years of struggle for personal freedom and choice of sexuality.
Mahima, who was born male biologically, was more comfortable being surrounded by women and girls since her childhood. A young boy saw himself as a girl and dreamt of being a girl.
Narrating her life story, Mahima take us through as to how there still exist misconceptions about the gender minorities, and how they are treated on a day-to-day basis.
“I always used to play with girls, preferred to wear girl’s clothes. Eventually, I admired their body and wanted to have female genitals. I wanted to be like them. Though, my mother and sister recognised my feelings, they never appreciated nor accepted. As I was having a feminine charm, I was being teased by friends and neighbours in the vicinity. I felt left out and I used to search for people who could understand my feeling.
“One fine day, I met a Hijra group and I went on a night out with them. After returning home, I was house-arrested for six months as my family members did not accept what I did. But after a couple of years, I had to run away from home, as I was not treated with dignity. The environment at college was no different. Guys used to grope me and teachers used to abuse me. I had to quit my studies due to social stigma that existed and it was a mental torture each day. I had to resort to begging and sex work, as no one was ready to give me job.
“It took me four years to save enough money for my treatment to remove my male genitals and have a breast implant. It seems like only yesterday. There was no one to stop me, not even my family, from pushing through, because it was my mindset that was important.
“After 6 six years, I visited my parents and started giving them money every month. But, I was made to wear a burka whenever I walked in and out of the house. The reason, it was considered a shame for my family members to explain my gender identity to neighbours as they felt that they would be disregarded in the ‘society’.
“And the horror continued from sexual abuse by drunken men (clients) to taunts from women and beatings from police…”
This is the story of an estimated two million people in India who, in the eyes of the society at large, have no real identity. The extreme stigmatisation surrounding transgressions around alternative sexuality as well as sex work makes it extremely difficult for families to accept their children.
Stigmatised by society and disowned by relatives, the majority of India’s transgender community is forced to live with restricted access to education, jobs and health care.
The Government is yet to take up a census of the people belonging to gender minorities in the state/ country. In spite of the reading down the anti-sodomy law, Section 377 of the IPC in 2009, members of these groups remain stigmatised and outside of the mainstream. While headway has been made, the journey to equality is not over.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the founding document of human rights law, “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state” (Article 16) Underlying this discourse on the family is the presumption that it is an essential structure for the protection of human rights, including the rights of liberty and dignity. However, for the gender minorities, the experience of the family is stark different.
Instead of protecting their child from the violence inflicted by the wider society, the family in fact provides an arena to act out the intolerance of the wider society.
People’s Union for Civil Liberties, an organisation working in defence of Civil Liberties and Human Rights, in its report on ‘Human rights violations against the transgender community’ has highlighted these issue and has noted that, given the enormous sense of isolation faced by gender minorities, particularly in the villages, the only solace or hope is when they get to know that there exist other people like them who live in the bigger cities. This in turn contributes to the formation of the Hijra community as a largely urban phenomenon.
For the first time in the history of the Karnataka High Court, a transgender was appointed as an employee. C Anu has been appointed in the Group ‘D’ category. Interestingly, yet another transgender women Priyanka works as a radio jockey at Radio Active Radio, an urban community radio hosted by Jain Group of Institutions, as part of its social outreach program.
Akkai Padmashali of rights organisation Sangama in Bangalore, who has been fighting for the right of the gender minority community for the past two decades says that things have begun to alter in the traditional Indian mindset and notes there seems to be both subtle and appreciable changes taking place in terms of how this group are being treated and recognised by mainstream society.
But, she does not cast away the government ignorance towards them.
“Three years ago, a number of promises were made by the then chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, with regard to providing us ration cards, pension, etc and a Government order was passed in this regard. But the promises have just remained on papers and are yet to materialise,” she adds.
The Karnataka government identified The Department of women and Child Development to be the nodal agency to address the concerns of gender minorities recognised the Karnataka State Women Development Corporation as the nodal institution to extend necessary facilities to the Gender minorities members.
Key points promised to gender minorities in GO NO. MaMaE 68 MaANi 2010 DATED 20-10-2010)
■ The Gender minorities group to be included in the Category-2A of the Backward Classes List as per the recommendations of the Karnataka State Backward Classes Commission.
■ Inclusion in the voters’ list by the Revenue Department.
■ Providing 01% reservation in the admission to college courses.
■ To be provided with houses constructed by the Slum Clearance Board.
■ To be given BPL ration cards by the Food and Civil Supplies Dept.
■ To be given free medical assistance and implementing health insurance to these members under Yashashwini Health Insurance Scheme by the Health and Family Welfare Department.
■ Financial assistance and required training to a member of Gender minorities up to Rs 20,000/- or to a group of 5 members up to Rs 100,000/- by the Women Development Corporation.
However, of these nothing seem to have materialised in reality and the reservation in education which could uplift the society in a large way has not moved an inch forward.
“The gender minorities do not have an identity yet. We have reminded the Election Commission and other departments concerned to issue them ID cards. Once this is done, other benefits will follow easily. The problem with such groups is that most of them do not have a permanent address. This is an area of concern,” said Narayanaswamy, Managing Director of Karnataka State Women’s Development Corporation.
Reference in Mahabharatha:
Arjuna marries a lady by name Nagakanye. A son is born to her and he is named Aravana. He belongs to third sex (shikhandi). When he was asked to come to the battlefield to defeat Bhishma, he asks to get married before his death in the hands of Bhishma. As nobody was willing to marry him, Lord Krishna himself gets transformed into a lady (Mohini) and marries him.
The Hijras of Tamil Nadu and gays and lesbians consider this Aravana as their original man and they treat themselves as ‘Aravaniyars’.
The Hijras sing, danced and bless the children and couples during naming ceremonies and marriages. Sindhis, Punjabis, Marwaris, Gujratis etc. follow this tradition. They respectfully request the Hijras to grace the function. The hosts will even touch the feet of Hijras on such occasions. This custom is very much there even now.
Contradicting the progressive efforts made by state government to extend benefits to gender minorities, last year, the Karnataka Legislative Assembly amended the Karnataka Police Act, 1963 , empowering the police to maintain a register of the names and the places of residence of all “eunuchs” who are “reasonably suspected of kidnapping boys, castrating them, or making them do unnatural crimes, or encouraging others to commit unnatural offences or any other offences.
Siddharth Narrain of Alternative Law Forum strongly condemns this and said the law is based on a colonial legislation called the Hyderabad Eunuchs Act. “It re-criminalises the hijra or transgender community by bringing back provisions which had been removed from Indian legislation long ago,” he said.
He also noted that the history behind legislation like this goes back to the Criminal Tribes Act – a colonial-era law under which the British government notified all members of certain tribes, castes, and social groups as criminal at birth. When City Express checked with a few police officers including the additional police commissioner, none were aware of the change in statute and also said that they were not using the provision yet.
The Hyderabad Eunuchs Act is directly derived from the colonial-era Criminal Tribes Act (CTA) passed by the British Government in 1871, the Act is a product of the British Administration’s repugnance toward certain tribes and communities that the State deemed as ‘addicted to the systematic commission of nonbailable offences. The
Criminal Tribes Act notified all eunuchs and members of about 150 tribes as criminal at birth.
■ International perspective:
Argentina has put in place some of the most liberal rules on changing gender, allowing people to alter their gender on official documents without first having to receive a psychiatric diagnosis or surgery.
Any adult there will be able to officially change his or her gender, image and birth name without having to get approval from doctors or judges — and without having to undergo physical changes beforehand, as many U.S. jurisdictions require.
In Nepal, the government has decided to issue special identity cards for the group with the third sex. The move was seen as an effort to eliminate gender discrimination. Australia and New Zealand both have “X” as an option in addition to ‘M’ or ‘F’ on passport applications. Bangladesh allows citizens to register to vote as “eunuchs.”
TERMS FOR REFERENCE
■ Sex: refers to the biological distinction between males and females
■ Gender: concerns the social differences between males and females. Gender describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine.
■ Sexuality minorities: people discriminated against, due to their sexual identity/orientation or gender identity. This includes gays, lesbians, bisexuals, hijras, kothis, transgenders, etc.
■ Gender minorities: (Also referred to as Mangalamukhis) they include Hijras, Kothis, Jogappas, female to male transgenders
■ Transgender: Someone who is anatomically born in a certain sex, but is more comfortable with the gender/sexual identity of a different gender, and chooses to go in for a sex reassignment surgery or hormonal treatment.
■ Kothis are those who are born as male members but having female feelings. Generally, they won’t change their sex. They prefer to wear male dress.
■ Hijras are those born male members but would like to identify themselves as females. Hence they like to remove their genitals by operation.
■ F to M (Female to Male) are those who are born as female members but like to identify themselves as male members.
■ Henniga, Khoja, ombathu — considered as derogatory terms (advised not to use)
(With inputs from Alternative Law Forum and Sangama)
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………(This article was published in TNIE city edition dated Aug 11, 2012)