As the pride awareness month, which is celebrated in June, has just ended, FPJ brings you a very special episode of Buzz by the Bay with Zainab Patel, a Mumbai born, brave and resilient transgender woman. She was born to a catholic family who lived in a Parel chawl. Her journey has bee fraught with many challenges and battles. Not only did she survive, she thrives. She is a human rights activist, a passionate crusader for inclusion and diversity, who also happens to be one of the petitioners in the marriage equality case against the Govt of India. Patel worked with the United Nations for ten years and currently has a private sector job as the Chief Officer of Diversity and Inclusion with Pernod Ricard. We conducted the interview at the Trans Cafe in Andheri, which is owned by her. Excerpts from the session anchored by Anushka Jagtiani.
Are 'hijras' essentially trangender or are they inter-sex people?
Transgender is nothing but a western term to signify anyone whose sense of gender doesn't match the gender assigned to them at birth. For example, when I was born I was assigned male sex based on my genitals. Over a period of time, I realised that my sense of gender doesn't match with the male sex and hence I identified as a woman. 'Kinnar' was an Indian term and a precursor to 'hijra'. The latter is the result of rapid Islamisation. It's a Persian word meaning someone who has completed a journey. When you look at the Islamic calendar, a year is called 'Hijri'. So, 'hijra' is someone who has completed the journey of self-identification. All trans people are not 'hijras', but all 'hijras' are trans people.
In 2013, you petitioned the Supreme Court for equal rights and the court passed a judgement recognising a third gender who are entitled to fundamental rights. Can you tell us about that case?
In any country, every citizen is able to live there permanently, find employment, and be counted and visible. Imagine my community had to go to court in the mid 2000s just to find out if they had the right to vote. I think it took a lot of courage for us to go to court because we were such a small minority, which is demonised, stigmatised and never been a vote bank priority. We asked for equal rights not special rights.
Have things improved for the community after 2014? There are a few prominent transgender people, but for most of them have things changed?
In a country of 5,00,000 trans people as per the census, you have just a double-digit number of trans people who have achieved success in some fields. Is that a reason to celebrate? Yes, because these people have come up through their own hard work. Despite being denied opportunities and kicked out of their homes, they have risen like the proverbial phoenix. But what happens to the remaining? You still see them begging on the streets or doing sex work. The situation on the ground continues to remain the same.