From her early childhood, Jiya Das, considered herself a girl, but her parents ensured her looks and appearance were that of a boy. She was sent to a boys’ school by her family, who fearing social boycott, tried to force her to accept her sex at birth. Bullied and abused in school, she came to believe that this was how it would be for people like her.
As years passed, she was forced by everyone to live as a man. Moreover, when the only breadwinner of her family, her father, became bed ridden, as the eldest among the siblings, she was told to go out and provide for the family. She started searching for jobs based on her qualifications, but she didn’t get any, instead receiving many indecent proposals from the interviewers.
She found a few others with similar experiences; together they formed a self help group and started developing handicrafts. It was then an NGO named Prantakatha spotted her jute bags and approached her to exhibit. There, she came across a doctor who suggested she train as a nurse.
Jiya explains that she met Alok Roy, Chairman of Medica Superspecialty Hospital in Kolkata during the selection for the training. Then and there Jiya was admitted to the programme based on the quality of her work, regardless of her gender.
Jiya joined Medica as a trainee in 2018 and is now a member of staff working through the pandemic. “Here in my workplace gender is not important”, she says. “Only my work is important. Everyone here supports me and my work.”
Organizations are beginning to raise awareness about LGBT rights and tackle barriers. Jiya’s forward-looking employer wants her story to encourage others. Chief Facility and Support Service Officer, Soma Chakraborty says, “Jiya is extremely hardworking, and sincere towards her work and we are proud of her. We would love more people like Jiya to come forward and carve out their path for a brighter and better future”.
These positive policies are predominantly an urban phenomenon, however. Far away from the talks, workshops and gay pride parades, families in rural India have their own ways of dealing with trans people. In some parts of the country, honor killings are planned by family members and lesbians are often subjected to family approved so-called “corrective rapes”. India is a vast and diverse country and attitudes on this issue move at different rates.
On September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that consensual homosexual acts would no longer constitute a crime. The change was welcomed by the Indian and global LGBTQ+ communities as a step towards acceptance and equal rights, but nearly three years after the passing of this law, the situation of the community has not fully changed.
Mx. Ankani Biswas, alias Ankan, a practicing trans lawyer from West Bengal is also of the view that nothing much has changed since the scrapping of the Section 377. Lawyer Ankan, who identifies as a trans man says, “I visited 32 out of 52 courts in the state of West Bengal, for fighting cases for the rights of LGBTQ+community, in particular name and gender changes cases of trans people and almost all the time, I suffered abuses, even inside the court premises.”
In 2014, the Supreme Court of India recognized the ‘Right to Self-Identify’, allowing trans people to identify as male, female or as third gender, with the official categorization as “socially and economically backward” enabling them to get jobs and education through quotas.
Ankan Biswas has fought court battles and won landmark judgments in his favor, including a case in 2020, which he filed against a Calcutta High Court’s recruitment notification, for the post of Assistant Registrar (two positions), as the notification mentioned males and females can apply for the role. Ankan challenged the notification, against the administration of the court. The judge accepted his arguments on the basis of the Supreme Court of India’s 2014 ‘Right to Self-Identify’ ruling and ultimately gave the verdict in his favor.
Many other trans people are overcoming social pressures and managing to pursue successful professional careers. Despite barriers in life, more are establishing themselves in the workplace, such as Achintya, now a writer and Ayan, a lab technician working with a renowned hospital in Kolkata. Both are able to be out in their jobs now, earning love and respect from both family and society.
Bappaditya Mukherjee, Founder and Director of Prantakatha, a civil rights youth organization says, “Civil society actors are acting in the area, creating a supporting environment, generating awareness, pushing agencies to become more inclusive and creating spaces where these types of support system are still unavailable”.
Much more has to be done to promote equal status for trans people, but individual efforts by community members can also create the environment for an inclusive society, for the development and equality of all.
Report: Jaydeep Das Gupta || Photo Credit: Kaushik Chatterjee
This story was produced by News Sense. It was written as part of a media skills development programme run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation supported by the Swedish Postcode Foundation. The content is the sole responsibility of the author and the publisher.