Pride Month: 'India Isn't Mature Enough To See A Transgender Sitting In Parliament'

Pride Month: 'India Isn't Mature Enough To See A Transgender Sitting In Parliament'

The three transgender candidates who attempted to sit in Parliament and represent their community are Sunaina Kinnar of Dhanbad, Rajan Singh of South Delhi, and Durga Mausi of Damoh in Madhya Pradesh

R Raj RaoUpdated: Monday, June 10, 2024, 01:23 PM IST
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While the unexpected results of the Lok Sabha elections have generated much excitement among democracy-loving Indians, with the BJP managing to win just 240 seats on its own, in marked contrast to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s '400 Paar' boast, it is time to spare a thought for the three transgender candidates who contested the elections and lost, lost so badly, in fact, that their security deposits were forfeited. The three transgender candidates who attempted to sit in Parliament and represent their community are Sunaina Kinnar of Dhanbad, Rajan Singh of South Delhi, and Durga Mausi of Damoh in Madhya Pradesh. Of the three, it was Rajan Singh who secured the lowest number of votes--just 325. Durga Mausi got 1124 votes, while Sunaina Kinnar 3462 votes.

The dismal performance of the three transgender candidates in the elections proves that for all the talk of inclusivity and diversity that we hear on social media ad nauseam, marginalised people will continue to be on the margins for a long long time to come. India simply isn’t mature enough to see a ‘hijra’ sitting in Parliament, without it invoking ridicule and filthy obscenities, both from those within Parliament, as well as from the rest of us, outside it. This should provoke civil society to ask itself a whole host of hard-hitting questions. Why did the three transgender candidates contest the elections as independents? Were they refused tickets by established political parties? Did they have enough funds to support their campaigns? Were they victims of transphobia and homophobia during their campaigns? Have the various transgender laws, beginning with the NALSA judgement of 2014, and the decriminalisation of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code by the Supreme Court in September 2018, really brought about a change in the mindsets of people? And so on.

In his 2020 book 'Queeristan: LGBTQ Inclusion in the Workplace', Parmesh Shahani outlines “A Five-Step Guide for Making Your Workplace LGBTQ Inclusive.” The five steps include having strong policies and specific benefits for LGBTQ employees; actively recruiting LGBTQ employees; creating an LGBTQ-friendly work culture within the company; addressing the special needs of transgender employees; and advocating LGBTQ issues outside the company.

Although Shahani is mainly concerned here with the corporate sector, it can be argued that his recommendations equally apply to the public sector and to Parliament. Yet, even within the corporate sector, how many multinational companies in India today can honestly claim to have created an environment free of prejudice and hostility towards gender and sexual minorities whom they may have employed as a sort of tokenism?

I was once on a panel in Narayan Murthy’s Infosys in Pune, where one of my co-panelists was a transwoman executive whom the company proudly showcased to prove that they were inclusive and supported diversity. But this isolated instance is more than offset by a recent Mary Antionette-like diktat issued by Pune’s police commissioner that forbids hijras from begging on the streets, even making it a punishable offence. Activists protested against the order and started a campaign against it. But it did not lead to a revocation of the order. As a result, about 40% of Pune’s hijras have left the city and headed back to their villages. It is as if the police commissioner, voicing the beliefs of the ivory-tower mainstream, is asking, why do hijras need to beg on the streets when there are so many government schemes for their rehabilitation? Why can’t they educate themselves and find jobs? Don’t they prefer begging on the streets because it brings them easy money?

However, this only shows how removed from ground realities the police commissioner is. According to Aishwarya Pandav, a hijra herself, who runs the Mitra Clinic in Pune for fellow-hijras, the so-called government schemes for the rehabilitation of transgender people do not benefit most of them, for they don’t even possess the documents that are required to avail of these schemes. These include one’s Aadhar card, PAN card, voter ID card, ration card, and so on. Begging and sex work are thus not an option but a survival tactic for most hijras. Nor is it true that hijras make a lot of money through begging. According to Pandav, on a good day, a hijra may earn between ₹1,000 to ₹2,000 by begging and giving blessings (badhai), but on a bad day, it would be much less. Besides, with the number of hijras on the streets having increased exponentially, there is much competition among them now, and their earnings are divided, with each of them earning only paltry sums of money.

As in any marginalised community, the ‘creamy layer’ phenomenon serves to drive a wedge and divide people within the transgender community. True, some hijras have managed to complete their college education and find ‘respectable’ jobs in the real world. Pandav herself has a bachelor’s degree from Pune’s Wadia College. But the number of empowered hijras, empowered through education or otherwise, is so small, that they can, so to speak, be counted on the fingers of one hand. These include well-known hijras such as Laxmi Narayan Tripathi (whose autobiography 'Me Laxmi, Me Hijra' I co-translated from Marathi with Vaishali Rode and PG Joshi), A Revathi, Gauri Sawant, Kalki Subramaniam, Disha Shaikh and Gazal Dhaliwal. Tripathi, Sawant and Shaikh are frequently seen at literature festivals and college seminars. Dhaliwal was on actor Aamir Khan’s television show, Satyamev Jayate. And Subramaniam is a regular at Sahitya Akademi gigs.

Yet, as Pandav points out, educational institutions are often reluctant to admit transgender students, and transgender persons themselves stay away from educational institutions, because they fear the ragging and bullying that they are likely to face from cis-het male students, which has, on more than one occasion, driven the victims to suicide.

Besides, did education come to the aid of Sunaina Kinnar, Rajan Singh and Durga Mausi, who lost the Lok Sabha elections?

Sometimes, education can have an adverse effect in that it can make people unsympathetic to members of their own community. A law college in Pune that runs a certificate course on Law and Alternative Sexuality (of which I happen to be the principal resource person) once invited Gauri Sawant and Chitra Palekar for a panel discussion. Sawant stunned me by admitting in public that whenever her car stopped at traffic lights, she rolled the windows up, for the sight of ordinary hijras begging on the streets embarrassed her.

Likewise, in February this year, I was a panellist at a college in Latur in Maharashtra, with Disha Shaikh as my co-panellist. I was surprised when Shaikh reprimanded the principal for allowing his students to touch her feet and seek her blessings as she entered the auditorium to deliver her speech.

To me, the remarks of both Sawant and Shaikh indicated that they had forgotten that the status quo cannot be dismantled overnight--it can sometimes take a lifetime to bring about change. This, undoubtedly, is proved by the abysmal performance of Sunaina Kinnar, Rajan Singh and Durga Mausi in the recent elections. (Had the three of them won, maybe they could have joined the INDIA alliance to help them jack up their numbers towards the magic figure of 272).

Now, the least that the government ought to do for Sunaina, Rajan and Durga Mausi is to refund the security deposits that they lost, only because they believed, albeit naively, that the world was a level playing field where everyone had equal opportunity, and that they could rub shoulders in Parliament with their more fortunate cismen and ciswomen brethren. A pipe dream that was doubtless shattered by their defeat.

(The writer is an author and the former head of the English department at Savitribai Phule Pune University)

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