‘Her’ Right To Admission

Maitreyee B Chowdhury

Apr 28, 2015, 05:38 PM | Updated Feb 11, 2016, 09:16 AM IST

A charming, undisruptive, dignified transgender makes the author wonder what makes us keep them separated from our scheme of things.

On the 16th of April 2015, The Hindu reported:

“Jadavpur varsity admission form now includes third gender.”

My heart skipped a beat and I was taken back to a windy day in 2010.

I had boarded a bus in  Bengaluru in an attempt to explore the city. The seats in the bus were almost occupied, except for a few seats that lay vacant here and there. About 10 minutes into the ride, the bus stopped to pick up a few passengers, I craned my neck from the window seat in idle curiosity to watch those who were boarding. There were three people who boarded the bus at that stop; one amongst them a transgender.  Out of sheer curiosity I watched as ‘she’ walked into the centre of the bus, glass bangles and a chiffon sari draping her form meticulously. Her large kohl-eyed gaze quickly checked through the alley for vacant seats. But even as she walked close to where I was seated, the lady in the seat just before me quickly put her purse in the vacant seat next to her. On being asked if the seat was occupied, the woman nodded her head to indicate that it was. As if not content with capturing the seat, she offered advice about where the transgender might find an appropriate seat. She pointed to a place across the aisle where a few men were seated and asked the transgender to go sit there. She (the transgender) did not bother to reply, instead turned her head to look towards the seats occupied by some gentlemen.

The one seat that appeared to be empty was gingerly covered by the hand of a gentleman who averted his eyes as some of us looked at him. There was nothing obtrusive about the gesture, but the implication apparent enough. I looked at the face of the transgender at that particular moment, the pain imprinted there stayed with me for long. The sense of not belonging anywhere and to no part of society must be a recurring and familiar pain that many in the transgender community would be used to, but to have to deal with it on a day-to-day basis makes a mockery of their very existence.

In April 2014, the Supreme Court of India accorded the ‘third gender’ status to transgenders. The order of the court was clear — both state and central governments were to treat the transgender community just as other economically backward classes (the OBCs) and formulate social welfare schemes for their inclusion into mainstream society. In its order, the court also asked the government to run awareness campaigns that would help raise social awareness about the plight of the community and make people more sensitive towards them. A year has passed since then and, while there have been some schemes that are still in the drafting stage, nothing concrete seems to have emerged to help better the situation of this community.

About three years ago I interviewed the first transgender Radio Jockey Priyanka R (from Bengaluru), who spoke to me at length about how misunderstood her lot was. Priyanka works at 90.4 Radio Active, a community radio station. She came across as a cheerful personality, in spite of her troubled past. She is perhaps one of the few from her community whose hard work had given her immense confidence and helped reinstate her family’s pride in her. She serves as an example and an eye opener for everyone to establish once and for all the fact that, given the right opportunities, there is nothing that could hold anyone back from being achievers in their own right.

Incidentally in the year 2010, the Bangalore University had announced that eligible transgenders who wanted to pursue higher education could take admission and avail of the reservation quota that allotted one seat in each of the 60 postgraduate (PG) courses that the University offered. Apart from the reservation, the university also changed its application format wherein the application form would have a “TG” (Transgender) option apart from that of the “Male” and “Female” categories. University authorities also made sure that the transgender quota was not a transferable one, which meant that even if the reserved seats were not filled, nobody else could fill it up.

Sadly, not too many transgenders seem to have availed this opportunity. This maybe because, as a community, transgenders are rarely given the opportunity to complete even their basic education as a result of which most of them end up as beggars at street signals or sex workers.

Not too far from where I stay is a Shiva temple. There have been plenty of times when I have crossed the temple premises, sent in a silent prayer or walked around the area watching idly as a constant stream of devotees entered and exited the temple with fervent prayers. It was another of those days when my evening walk took me close to the temple and even as I was about to cross the road that led to another small connector, my eyes fell on ‘her’. Red sari, good hair tied in a magnificent bun, a large maroon bindi, dazzling smile and yarns of Jasmine garlands in her hand, she sat like some terrific Shiva incarnate. I stopped on the edge of the road and watched her from a distance.

At the first chance possible, I crossed the road to walk across to speak to her. She had seen me coming; she flashed a hesitant smile, perhaps expecting someone who needed to buy flowers. I had no idea what the glance implied, nor did I care about the fact that she was a transgender. As I stood in front of her in sheer awe of her persona, I couldn’t help but smile too as a reciprocation of that terrific aura she exuded.

It has been many years since that day when I first crossed the road to see her. A transgender by birth, she had dedicated her life to selling flowers in front of the temple. This lady was one of the lucky and successful few from her community, who had managed to not only earn a decent living but give herself a life of dignity. On one of these occasions I asked her if I could click a picture of hers and she smiled shyly, flashing that dazzling smile in bits and parts. This stranger with a dazzling smile and electric personality is a beautiful habit by now; every time I’m in that area I cross the road to smile with her and at her. She has no inkling of why a perfect stranger would cross roads to come and smile at her, she has never asked me and I have never offered to tell her about the peace she brought to me.

As I read the news about Jadavpur University and the passing of the private member’s Bill in the Rajya Sabha to promote the rights of transgender people (pending a comprehensive Bill from the government), I remembered my lady in the red sari selling flowers day in and out. Like many of her kind, she might not understand the impact of the news, but for others like her and those born to a generation after, this would be the beginning of at least some show of sensitivity towards a community that largely lives in the shadows created by us.

Maitreyee B Chowdhury is a poet and writer based in Bangalore

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