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City's transgender still battling out for decent living

City's transgender still battling out for decent living

By Ankita Das


Kolkata,  May 6 (UNI) The Supreme Court judgement in 2014 giving recognition to  the transgender people and eunuchs as "third gender" came as a ray of  hope to the transgender community, but their struggle for livelihood  still continues as development seems to be a far cry.

     With the transgender bill still pending in parliament, the government is yet to take any constructive step towards them.

      Aparna Banerjee, activist and member of West Bengal Transgender Development Board, told UNI today,  "After the apex court verdict we were hopeful that there will be a  major development in education, health and economic sectors, but with  the bill pending we are quite uncertain."

       When asked about the response of the Ministry of Social Justice and  Empowerment to their woes, Banerjee said, "The government always has the  same answer that the bill is pending and nothing can be done at this  point."

       The Supreme Court had directed the Centre and state to treat the  "third gender" category people as socially and economically backward  classes and to provide quotas for admission to educational institutions  and in government jobs.

   "As  compared to earlier times, we have received acceptance to a larger  extent in the society but livelihood discrimination still continues,"  Banerjee said. 

     Recalling Atri Kar (27) moving Calcutta High Court in separate cases  demanding inclusion of the third category in the application form of  WBCS and jobs in the Railways and State Bank of India (SBI), she said,  "It's a long drawn fight for her because the SBI has moved court saying  as the transgender bill is pending, she should not be allowed to write  the examination.

    "There is a deep-rooted stigma against transgender people followed by fear," Banerjee rued.

      At a time when they are denied jobs in private or public sectors, some  of them have turned to the creative line and secondary means of  livelihood for a decent living.

      Koushik Hore, the founder of Sathrangi, a trans-feminine livelihood  venture focusing on handicrafts, told UNI, "Under this venture,  transgenders and women from the different sections of excluded  communities besides, women artisans from rural and urban areas are  creating jute products and other handicrafts." 

"Sathrangi is being funded by an Ahmedabad  based organisation run by Anarben Patel, daughter of former Gujarat  chief minister Anandiben Patel. We are working on product promotion,  product value addition, providing technical support and online sale,"  Hore said.      At present eight 'transwomen' are associated with Sathrangi, he added.

      Banerjee, also an entrepreneur, has a saree boutique in the city.

      Sumon Sarkar, 35, a transgender, is a freelance makeup artist who works in the fashion and film industry.

       Sarkar, a graduate and a Diploma holder in Mass Communication with  specialisation in film studies, was always attracted towards the glamour  world.

     Asked about the rapid  increase in transgender and eunuchs begging at traffic signals, Banerjee  warned, "It would increase further in the near future if the government  does not pass the bill soon and initiate steps for our better  livelihood."

     Organisations in Bengal that are working for the rights of  transgenders are Association of Transgender and Hijra (ATHB), Amitie  Trust, Gour Banga Sangram Samiti in Malda, Notun Aalo in Dinajpur,  Moitrayee in Barddhaman and Swapnil in Birbhum.

     Dr Manabi Bandyopadhyay became the first transgender person in the  country to be the principal of the Krishnagar Women's College in Nadia  district in 2015 and the first such person to complete her Doctor of  Philosophy (PhD).

     Although Bandyopadhyay's achievement had boosted the confidence of her  community, it sadly did not bring much difference as the community is  still fighting for a respectable life and sustainable livelihood.

     Banerjee believes there is discrimination at the grassroots level as  the school books talk only about the masculine and feminine gender and  there is no mention of transgenders.

    "We even do not have any existence in biology," she lamented.

     The majority of the people of LGBT community drops out of school on  finding it difficult to bear the mental and physical harassment from  teachers and students, she said.

      Due to lack of knowledge and awareness, many members of the LGBT  community fall prey to HIV, AIDS and Sexually Transmitted diseases.   

    Many of them also work as sex workers to be able to buy food and meet their day-to-day expenses.

     Banerjee informed that health awareness programmes are conducted for  them where they disseminate information on preventive measures.

    "As transgender are denied decent jobs, they go to the villages of  Bihar, where they perform 'logon' or 'londa' dance, a ceremonial money  collection," said Hore, who is originally from Malda near Bihar border.

    He added, "They are sexually abused, raped, exploited and even murdered there." The people who take them to different ceremonies "treat them as slaves".

    Sathrangi has brought under its umbrella many such trafficked and red  light area survivors, he said, adding that they are economically  empowered now.

   "They are economically empowered now and earn with respect," he added.

     Earlier, police were oblivion, ignorant and biased towards their  cause. They were also seen publicly thrashing and beating the eunuchs  and transgenders.

    However, their mindset and approach have changed largely.

     "Police are sensible to our cause now, especially the Commissionerate  and police headquarters at Lalbazar. They are respectful towards us  now," said Banerjee. Policemen in small police stations are still indifferent though.

    Recently, Sarkar made a statement at an event in Kolkata: "We are not women. Do not push us towards feminisation."

   "I was born as a boy but I have not changed into a woman. I am a transgender.

Although  I feel feminine inside, I have an objection if I am being proved to be a  woman (ontore ami nari tobe amake nari proman korte gele apotti aache,"  Sarkar explained.

   Banerjee said it is due to lack of knowledge that transgender people are pushed towards 'feminisation'.

 Many of them go for Gender Confirming surgeries but have different reasons for going under the knife. Some of them opt for it to find acceptance in society, some to feel comfortable in their own body and some under pressure.

    Banerjee said, "There is a rapid increase in number of such surgeries  in Bengal. The interested people are given six months of counselling  before being approved for surgery."

    Although surgeries have brought them respite, the transgender or eunuchs otherwise face medical negligence in the country.   In many cases, it was seen that the doctors and the hospital staff are  not trained to deal with them and their health issues, she pointed out.

    Sohini Boral had a horrifying experience when she went to a city doctor in 2007 due to fever.   "I had high temperature and while I was waiting outside the doctor's  chamber in a city hospital, he assembled some of his colleagues to his  room before calling me inside. They then questioned me of my gender and  sexuality. I was severely humiliated and mocked at," Boral added.

    The incident had left a deep scar in Boral' mind as she stopped going to the doctor from 2007 to 2013.

     "I directly bought medicines from the pharmacy during that period as I  thought it was better that way than facing humiliation," she added.

     Boral, originally from Kolkata, is now based in Sreerampur where she  is working as a Strategic Information Assistant with Amitae Trust, a  Community-based organisation fighting for LGBT rights in Hooghly  district.

     "We keep conducting campaigns in the district and now there is better  health facilities and awareness in Hooghly on transgenders," she added.

     The majority of the LGBT people had to leave their home at an early  age due to social exclusion and discrimination in the family and they  found solace in like company.

    Some of them also leave homes as their families are cornered in society because they are different from a male or female.

    Although they have fought different battles at home and society at large, more or less the intense mental agony was same.

    Banerjee and Boral left their houses when they were aged between 18 to 20.

Banerjee is a mother to three daughters, including Boral.

    As per the Indian law, LGBT people are barred from adopting children.

     "I cannot adopt them as under the Indian judiciary I am not allowed to  but we have gradually developed a mother-daughter bond," said the  doting mother.

     Sarkar, however, has a different story.

     Unlike most trans people, Sarkar, who lives with her family, never faced any discrimination at home.

       "My parents had never objected to my mannerisms. But my extended  family and neighbours asked me to change my feminine nature since  childhood," Sarkar recounted.

      She has been undergoing hormone therapy since 2015 and underwent breast transplant recently.

       She is the lone earning member of her family and takes care of her  ailing and aged parents and 42-years-old elder sister, who is a special  child, and maintains a double-storeyed house in Tollygunge.

       "I am beyond a man or woman of today's time," she said proudly as she fulfils the responsibilities of a daughter and son. 

        Although trans people are either driven out of their houses or forced  to live by themselves, some of them are reconnecting with their  families.

       Boral visits her family in Kolkata sometimes and her family urges her to stay with them.

       Talking about her mother's strong desire to see her married, Sarkar  said, "She wanted me to marry a girl and have a life as per societal  standards. Under pressure, I agreed but later backed out after realising  that my parents will be temporarily happy and this step could destroy a  girl's life as sooner or later the reality would come out in the  open."

      After a failed relationship which lasted for five years, she is uncertain of the future of her present relationship.

       Article 377 of the Indian Constitution states that whoever voluntarily  has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman  or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with  imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten  years, and shall also be liable to fine.

      However, an elated Sarkar said, "Now, I have reached a point where my mother and I exchange sarees."

       "If I have to live, I will do so on my own identity as we have only  one life to live (Jodi amake banchte hoy, aami amar nijer porichoy niye  banchbo, karon ektai life)," said Sarkar, who identifies herself as  Sumon and also as Sumona.

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