The way Indian society looks at and treats transgenders is slowly but surely changing. That said, we still have a long way to go when it comes to creating more opportunities for transgender people of our society, especially starting from their education.
After West Bengal and Maharashtra, Assam became the third State to get a transgender judge. On July 14, Swati Bidhan Baruah was appointed a member judge in the Lok Adalat in Guwahati. “My appointment as a judge in the Lok Adalat is a positive message for society and will help create awareness on discrimination against transgenders,” she told reporters. She also talked about the poor treatment and problems faced by transgenders in Assam and how she aims to resolve them and sensitise the Assamese towards trangenders, helping them lead a life of dignity and acceptance.
Swati’s appointment coincides with the Supreme Court’s decision to revisit its 2013 verdict on Section 377. The present scenario reflects a major change in the judiciary and upliftment of one of the most silent and neglected communities.
The transgender community was officially recognised in India after the Supreme Court decided to create a “third gender category” on April 15, 2014. According to this, transgenders can officially identify themselves on documents. “The spirit of the (Indian) Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of religion, caste, or gender,” the court said in its verdict. With this decision, all federal and State Governments were to include transgenders in their welfare programmes, including education and healthcare.
In August 2015, following the Supreme Court’s order, the University Grants Commission (UGC) had asked all central universities to form a committee and an equal opportunities cell to address issues and ensure provisions and infrastructure to help the third gender feel safe and accepted. Panjab University (PU), Chandigarh, improved its infrastructure to support the decision. Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) also made special provisions to help the third gender enter the mainstream by providing them five marks under the ‘deprivation point system’, which was aimed at ensuring their admission in numbers. Delhi University (DU) also introduced the third gender admission in its postgraduate courses in 2014, followed by the undergraduate courses in 2015.
In an article written in 2015, Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi, a transgender rights activist, wrote: “One thing that we have to look at is the kind of enabling environment we give to the transgender community. For that, advocacy is necessary. The pre-conceived notions of society have to change. They should ensure transgenders are not dropping out because of ragging”. However, three years down the line, it seems not much has changed despite these positive steps. Transgenders say they still face harassment and do not feel safe even on the college campus. On the condition of anonymity, an official from DU told us, “Even though there is nothing on paper, the university does not allow transgender women to join women colleges due to lack of infrastructure like unisex washrooms.”
In 2015, DU scrapped its gender neutral anti-harassment law and replaced it with a new law which considered only women as victims of harassment. This came as a huge disappointment for the LGBTQ community. Although, DU has an informal group — DU Queer Collective — where issues are often raised, desired results are yet to be seen.
The past three years saw an upward trend in the registration of transgender students, but hardly any of these converted into actual admission. Sources who work in the administration section of the university are vague on why registrations don’t translate into admissions in the case of these students. They say there is no particular reason for ‘other’ applicants not showing up and that many who clicked the ‘other’ option did not belong to that category; they had made an honest mistake and came back to correct it soon.
Transgender students say that most of them drop out either because they do not feel safe or because they have to face harassment on a regular basis. The other hurdle is that not all DU colleges are transgender-friendly. They do not have the kind of facilities or sensitisation programmes that would make transgender students feel welcome. Due to these reasons, transgenders generally opt for the School of Open Learning (SOL), but the struggle does not end even there. The admission process in itself is a challenge. “Officials judge us in verbal as well as non-verbal ways. They stick to our previous gender in the records even after we submit the relevant documents,” said a student on the condition of anonymity. Another student added, “Officials ask us uncomfortable questions during the process. And other students call us chakka and hijra.” Third gender applicants also say that at times, they register themselves under their previous gender category and take admission to escape the barbs.
Professor Rajesh Kumar, a Professor at the Department of Adult Education and Extension, says: “DU is one of the largest universities in India. When put together, the number of students in a regular college and SOL would exceed a lakh. Bigger the system, more the problems faced by it. The university is obviously relatively better equipped to help male and female students. Admission of transgender students is a new thing, and the university is preparing itself for the same.”
Kumar informs that a team from the university was sent to areas with a large transgender population, such as Burari and Seelampur. He says, “We found that most transgenders follow a unique guru system. According to the system, the gurus have a share in each transgender’s earnings. It is the same gurus who often make it difficult for us to reach potential students. There’s a need to break this system and make the third gender aware of the different means of livelihood and life.”
When we spoke to some of these students about how they could be made more comfortable in the university environment, they said one solution could be hiring transgenders as administrative officials and professors. University officials say that while that is their aim too, it is not something that can be done overnight. Just like the university has been constantly evolving to become more inclusive of women students and students from Scheduled Castes or Other Backward Classes, it will eventually become “fit” for transgender students too.
Writer: APOORVAA NAVEEN JOSHI
Source: The Pioneer