The world is currently celebrating Pride Month with great zeal and enthusiasm. The month is celebrated to honour the Stonewall uprising, which took place around 1969 in Manhattan. It was the turning point in the United States’ gay liberation movement. Today, pride parades, conferences, awareness programs and concerts are held, and LGBTQ Pride Month activities draw millions of people worldwide. It celebrates the contributions of the LGBTQ+ communities to society.
In India, Pride Month celebrations have gained momentum only in the last decade. However, the queer community has always been a part of its history and society. This article looks at the unique history and struggles of the transgender community in India.
Role of the transgender community in Indian History
Since time immemorial, transgender people have been considered a part of India’s culture. The western term “Transgender” is an oversimplified and convenient umbrella term used to refer to a diverse group of people who do not identify with the two traditional gender role of male and female. The Indian subcontinent is a blast of a variety of culture and languages. Each has its own term to refer to the third gender – Hijras, eunuchs, Kothis, Aravanis, Jogappas, Shiv-Shaktis, among so many others. We may be compelled to use these as synonyms. But each word is attached to its own unique langue and culture, giving the person that holds it an identity of their own.
Their intricate identities are proof of their existence in our culture since time immemorial. This community has been a significant part of the ancient Indian texts – The Vedas. The great Sanskrit epics of Mahabharata and Ramanya also held a place for the individuals identifying with the third gender. Even the Hindu, Islamic, Jain and Buddhist religions, too, recognised and accepted their presence.
The transgender community played a significant role in the royal courts of the Mughal Empire too. They help key governing roles in the courts. They were also seen as having spiritual power and were sought after for blessings, especially during religious rituals. They were thought to be trustworthy and loyal and therefore had unrestricted access to all locations and portions of the populace.
However, with the inception of British rule in India, the position of transgender people started deteriorating significantly. The Hijra community were a threat to colonial power and the English government. Thus, British officials attempted to eliminate and outlaw the Hijra population through various laws. The Criminal Tribes Act 1871 criminalised the very existence of a third-gender under the guise of prosecuting those actually committing criminal acts. This pre-partition past has had a detrimental impact on the hijra’s position in society today.
The struggle faced by the Trans Community
The equal social and political standing of the Transgender community in India is vulnerable today. The community has been treated unequally in schools, public department, employment areas and other socio-political platforms. Transgender children have also reported prejudice from their peers in the classroom. Because they are “different,” transgender children are three times more likely to be ostracized by their classmates.
Several recent studies have found that transgender people are shunned and discriminated against even by their own family and friends. As a result, many children turn to drug selling, vehicle theft and get trapped into sexual exploitation. Even though the Supreme Court of India granted transgender persons legal recognition in the National Legal Service Authority v. Union of India in 2014, transgender persons continue to face political and societal discrimination.
The stigma is transmitted across society due to cultural stigma and socialization. Transgender people are subjected to enormous societal burden to conceal their identity from the public sphere because they are considered different. In a society where diverse groups of people exist, there is always a distinction between “my group” and “their group”. The transgender community has to face the ill consequences of being the outsiders than being the ingroup.
The National Human Rights Commission’s first-ever report on transgender rights provides a thorough understanding of the country’s transgender population. According to the report, almost 92 per cent of transgender people in the nation are denied employment. As a result, they are coerced into prostitution, which has caused a high prevalence of HIV cases among the group.
Even if several resolutions that benefit the trans community have been passed, there is still a long way to go. Some trans individuals continue to live in a state of abstract poverty. Their gender should not be a reason their lead impoverished lives.
What more can we do to be an inclusive society?
We should raise public tolerance of the concept of gender fluidity and move away from the heteronormative default. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016, has provided legal recognition and rights to trans persons under Article 21 of the Constitution. However, several problems in the bill require immediate addressing. Trans persons should have more representation in Parliament and other government areas. Legislators should enact more progressive policies in areas such as education and employment for the trans community.
We are all different in our being. It is what makes our society a vibrant place to live. Let’s preserve this diversity and make a place for everyone.
Written by: Siddhant Jaiswal Edited by: Ananya Shetty