Bhubaneswar: Transgenders were a respected community in ancient India. There was acceptability of them in the society. People used to pay them respect and even take blessings from them in those times. But during the colonial era the British enacted the criminal tribes act of 1871. The act criminalised the transgender community in India. According to the act they were prohibited from appearing in public wearing women's attire.
The draconian law was abolished in 1949. But the damage had already been done by then. The society had gathered plenty of hatred for them. They were ridiculed, shunned and ostracised by the mass by then. Lots of water has flown down the river and they are still fighting with social stigma, hatred and ridicule from the society.
Though a lot has changed in the society’s prospective towards them in recent years, yet they are still fighting their war against the established norms for acceptability. The arduous journey replete with hard struggle has forced many to resort to begging and prostitution. But they cannot be solely blamed for that. OdishaTV.in offers a peek into their plight and struggle on the occasion of 'International Transgender Day of Visibility'.
[caption id="attachment_530925" align="aligncenter" width="750"] A Transgender Community In Bhubaneswar[/caption]
Transgender communities exist in some form or the other across the demographic expanse of country. They are also known by different names in different parts of the country such as Hijra in the north and east, Shiv Shakti and Kojja in Andhra Pradesh, Thirunangai in Tamil Nadu and Mangalamukhi in border regions of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Telangana. According to a study there are 4.5 lakh transgender population in India. Their number is approximately 2000 in Odisha. Many of them are still to open up about their identities fearing social stigma and backlash.
Why The Urge To Be A Female ?
Several studies have been done regarding the brains of transgender people to find out why they feel the urge to be like female. According to a neurobiologist, transgender persons have clusters of cells or nuclei that resembles to those of female brains. Transgender women have fewer cells of regulator hormone somatostation than men. According to a Spanish researcher, transgender men had relatively thin subcortical areas like typical men. Transgender women had thinner cortical regions in the right hemisphere like typical women. Dutch researchers found how adolescents with gender dysphoria responded to a pheromone called androstadienone. They found that adolescent transgender boys responded to the heromone like typical boys and transgender girls like typical girls.
[caption id="attachment_530928" align="aligncenter" width="750"] A Rugby Team Of Transgenders[/caption]
The Way They Are
The Guru-Chela system is the age old family system of these women aimed to protect and unite them. So a number of Chelas or transgender women would be under the guardianship of one Guru. A Chela has to undergo the metamorphosis after a certain rituals. They have to be castrated and grow hair like a girl. Piercing their ear and nose is also compulsory. They have to give some portion of their income to the Guru for the sustenance of the community.
The Gurus at the community living opposite the Kalinga Studio we visited were Meghna Kinnar and Rani Kinnar. Meghna is also the secretary of All Odisha Third Gender Welfare Association Secretary while the Bada Chelas (main disciples)include Ayasha, Sneha and some more. Around 50 kinnars are living there under the guidance of two Gurus.
Meghna, who made headlines few years back after becoming the first transgender woman from the State to marry a man, Basudev, was the most vocal among them. She narrated the plight of fellow community members, the social stigma, stories of success amid deprivation, profession and government endeavours to involve them into the main stream.
On being asked how a transgender will be accepted in the society if she resorted to begging and prostitution, Meghna said, “The so-called civilised society is responsible for pushing us to do things which we don't like. They don't let us become a part of the mainstream. They hate us and tease us. Our sisters have tried their hands in occupations like tailoring and beautician business, but people didn’t come near us,” she said with signs of despair on her face.
Rani chipped in. “In 2017 the Saheed Nagar Puja Mandap had donated me an autorickhaw in a bid to help transgenders come to the mainstream. I knew driving and decided to earn my living by running that rickshaw. But people hesitated to take ride in my vehicle. So I was forced to return that rickshaw to the donors. How long I should have waited? I have to feed my stomach also,” she said in chocked voice.
[caption id="attachment_530948" align="aligncenter" width="429"] Meghna Sahoo Is The First Transgender Cab Driver Of The Country[/caption]
Rani narrated a stirring tale-- “Once I requested an old couple to use my auto. But they refused straight away. I even promised them to drop at their place free of cost, but they said they can’t trust me as I am a transgender as I would kidnap them. It was really heart breaking."
Meghna, who happens to be Ola's first transgender cab driver in the country, joined Rani. “These so called civilised people are demonising our begging and prostitution. But they never pay attention to our struggle and plight. People would tease us by calling names like 'Chhaka' and 'Maichia' out in the streets. A transgender is terribly hurt at such insinuations.”
She went on. “A Kinnar has a soft heart. She craves for love all the time. But she doesn’t get it from anywhere. Her family shuns her. She is forced to fall back on the transgender community for her upkeep. Then the society shuns her and ridicules her. She has a little education and awareness. The society doesn’t support her in any profession and she is forced to beg or indulge in prostitution,” Ayasha said.
Meanwhile, the Secretary of All OdishaThird Gender Welfare Association and renowned transgender activist Meera Parida admitted that social stigma and the attitude of society towards transgenders have changed of late.
[caption id="attachment_530930" align="aligncenter" width="750"] A Transgender Donating Blood[/caption]
“Their social acceptability has increased. But it has been limited only in urban centres like Cuttack and Bhubaneswar which is because of the effort of few activists voicing their cause. A lot of awareness and education has to be spread for the total acceptance of Kinnars. The government and corporate sectors should come forward with helping hands to assimilate the transgenders into the mainstream," she said.
Transgenders like Sadhana Mishra (welfare officer at a private engineering college in Bhubaneswar) and Aishwarya Rutuparna Pradhan (OFS officer) have the spirits to be successful in the society. But they earned the respect by fighting against odds.
“I don’t feel any discrimination or didn’t get any weird look from my colleagues because I am Sadhna Mishra. I am very much a professional. My education, awareness and personality also helps me,” Sadhna stated.
There are also few other success stories of transgenders like Babula Mohapatra of Berhampur, who is a famous choreographer in the State having more than 200 students in her academy. Models like Sneha, Devalina, Rachana, Odishi dancers like Lipsa and Sophia and a transgender group comprising Mithi, Sony and Tina excelling in handicrafts can be good examples for the community. But they are a minority.
“Only individual effort will not help the cause of the transgenders. Government has also a lot of role to play,” Meera, a BJD activist, stated while acknowledging the help extended by the State government for the elevation of the community.
“The government has engaged transgenders in collecting holding tax and the food security scheme. We have been given voter identity card, Aadhar card and ration card under the third gender category. There is also a proposal to give each Hijra four decimals of land outside the city limits. Our opinion is being sought at bureaucratic levels for community welfare initiatives," said Meera.
Meera said though much has been done, what the community members lack is adequate livelihood training programmes and loans to support and start enterprises. "Reservation should also be extended in government and private sectors to provide employment for transgenders,” she suggested.
Rani summed up by saying “It's a long struggle till Kinnars finally find their own place and comfort in the society. They have to be pulled out of their present status to join the mainstream.”
[caption id="attachment_530938" align="aligncenter" width="750"] Meera Parida With Actress Anu Choudhury[/caption]
Odia Transgenders Who Broke The Myth
Aishwarya Rutuparna Pradhan- Working in the Orissa Financial Service as a commercial tax officer since 2010.
Meera Parida-Working as a social activist and model. She has won several National and State level awards. She is currently the Maha Mandaleswar of Kinnar Akhada Parisada, East Zone. She has her own fashion team 'Sampurnna' comprising six members which has performed in several national and State level shows.
Sadhana Mishra-Social development officer at a private engineering college. First in Odisha to get a passport under transgender category.
Phula Kinnar-Working as a school teacher in Boudh.
Meghna Sahoo- First transgender in Odisha to marry a man. Working as a journalist and transgender activist. She was the first transgender cab driver in India.
Ayasha Behera- Model and engineering student.
Dabalina Sasmal- Model and law student.