There are certain images which come to mind when the Pride Month rolls around every year; marches and multicoloured flags, people on the street with their faces painted and the huge flood of posts on social media which entrances the mind inclined to social justice.
However, under this, one wonders about the reach of the movement, and not too often and yet not seldom enough to ignore, the misuse for publicity.
Not an unusual sight, bright saris with stark make-up tousling the feathers of the grey doldrums of city life, the members of the Hijra community like bright blobs at railway stations, around traffic signals or under bridges... Have they any access to this social media driven activism?
In a conversation with Laxmi Naryan Tripathi, activist and known face of the traditional transgender community in India (also known as the Hijra community), she laughs when the Pride Month is brought up. “There’s a stigma even in the LGBTQ+ community,” she points out.
If prostitution and begging are still the ways in which a significant percent of Hijras earn their bread and butter, then where is the advocacy for their rights in this month, or even otherwise, is a question to be asked.
The HR policies of companies don’t give any reservations for the community, neither are they ready to accept any. Laxmi declares, “My productivity is not between my legs or my gender, it is in my skill and my ability.”
Grouping the LGBTQ+ section of the society together in one umbrella term, we seem to forget that classism seems to raise its head even here. A totalitarian approach, evidently.
And still, in the films that go forth to win awards and accolades, lauded for bringing forth the reality of the LGBTQ+ community, many entries from India in this category do focus on the Hijra community.
“We are the hot potato,” Laxmi says, “People come to the theatres with boxes of tissues to cry over my plight, yet they don’t really seem to do anything about it. My plight is saleable.”
The census included the third gender for the first time in 2014 and came up with a number of 4.9 lakh. However, it is unknown as to how many didn’t take it.
When the Maharashtra Government enacted the Protection of Dignity of Women Act in 2016, prohibiting “obscene” dance in hotels, restaurants, bar-rooms and other establishments, many of the third gender also lost their source of income, pushing them further down the employment rope.
Gauri Sawant, founder of Sakhi Char Chaughi and Aajicha Ghar, the latter being a home for children of prostitutes being taken care of by the elderly of the Hijra community, feels that even in the LGBTQ+ community, they are marginalised.
They are looked at from not one but two judgmental lenses—the first of being a transgender and then that of being beggars and sex workers. “When will we fight for our rights and the advocacy for it, when the basic bread and butter is hard to come by? In such situations, the fight for my rights takes a back-seat in priorities,” she says. And yet, she was one of the people who filed the PILs which resulted in the 2014 triumphant verdict.
There is a certain dichotomy to the legal recognition of the third gender by the Supreme Court as of the 2014 verdict. Unlike the gay, lesbian, bisexual etc. community, the Hijra community does not need coming out—after they are initiated, that is.
They can be recognised easily on the streets and elsewhere. There is no closet to come out of once the process of becoming a Hijra (Male To Female transgender, in other terms of the process) is done.
Giving them a legal name, a legal recognition, although making a stark difference in the paperwork processes, does not do much to alleviate their position.
However, not all is dark, initiatives like TRANScend by the Humsafar Trust, the second phase of which began in April 2018, aims to enhance the socio-economic inclusion of transgender people in India.
Maharashtra government, in a step forward, has formed a Transgender Welfare Board looking to provide formal education, employment opportunities, conduct health programmes and give legal help to the community. Although the implementation is yet another matter for another day.
Ironically in many scenarios welfare is crossing over to commercialism, as in the case of Pink Money. As it is known in UK, the Pink Pound, due to its huge revenue generating capacity, is seeing many of the top brand companies and even corporates diverting and targeting LGBTQ+ related products to see rolling profits.
Is not Pride Month a celebration of identities across the spectrum? Then why is this spectrum, multicoloured and rainbow-like, turning an averse gaze to the Hijra community, which has been around since before the term transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual came into existence? People march in the same streets where they refuse to acknowledge or help the third gender out of aversion, disgust, fear or all of the above. Selective activism is really no matter of pride.
By STUTI KUTE
(June is celebrated as Pride Month)