Even after getting recognition by the Supreme Court as the third gender, trans-genders are still struggling to get social acceptance, writes Prateek Goyal. In April 2014, when Supreme court gave recognition to transgenders as the third gender of the society, it had given hope to many from the community that their life would be changed for good and they will receive a wider acceptance in society so that the coming generations of trans-genders don’t have to beg on traffic signals or to work as sex workers to earn their livelihood. But it seems that court verdict is not enough for the amalgamation of this community into society as stigma towards them is still prevalent and is not going to change overnight.
Tehelka spoke to a few members of the community who have lived a life nothing less than hell and are living with the hope that a day will come when trans-genders will be accepted in society as normal
The 40 year old Panna Gabriel or Panna didi, as she is popularly known in the red light area of Budhwar Peth in Pune, proudly shows awards given to her for social service while sitting in her 250 square feet home in the dingy lanes of infamous Budhwar peth. She was one of the few from India who were invited to the International AIDS conference held in Washington, USA, in 2012. Panna currently works as a social worker with a mission to provide education to the children born in red light areas and also has worked in a few documentaries on the life of trans-genders. But her past life is nothing less than a tale of horror; a mention of it creates an expression of sorrow on her face.
She narrated her tale to Tehelka and said, “I was born in Mullakallanka village in Rajmundri district of Andhra Pradesh. I was born a boy but from inside I was a girl. I used to act like girls since my childhood and this act of mine didn’t go down well with my family. I was very feminine and was always teased by boys as well as girls in school. At home also I had to face the wrath of my father and elder brother who used to beat me because of my feminine nature and expressions.”
“Friends of my brother used to question him about my girly acts, which in turn used to irritate him and he used to beat me. My father used to come home in the night in a drunken state and used to beat me as he was also questioned about my feminine behavior at his work place,” she added.
Panna informed that many times she was abused sexually by the boys in her school. In 7th standard, some senior boys took her to a secluded place on the pretext of giving her chocolate and sexually abused her.
This continued for two years till she realised that something is going wrong with her.
“They used to give me chocolate and asked me to take my pants off and used to indulge in unnatural sex with me. Initially, I didn’t realise what is happening, I used to think that it’s a kind of game but gradually I understood what they were doing with me and stayed away from them,” Panna said.
Panna revealed that as a child, she used to enjoy putting makeup on her face and at times used to wear the clothes of her sisters when nobody used to be at home. She was always asked by her father to leave the house for not mending her ways. She said, “my father always used to beat me for my behaviour. I was helpless, it was my natural behaviour, I was born like that. But my mother was very supportive. She used to love me but was afraid of my father and brother and couldn’t support me openly.”
At the age of 15 ,Panna ran away from her home to Raj Mundri and started living outside the Railway station. While living at the station she was once approached by a man to do oral sex, as she didn’t have any money to survive she agreed to his offer. She continued working like this for two-three months and then got a job to work in hotel. But there also she was sexually abused by the other men working in the hotel. She said, “8-10 boys used to live in a room and everybody used to fight to sleep next to me. I was sexually abused many a times by them but couldn’t do anything.
But when this got to the ear of the owner instead of taking action against those boys he asked me to leave the job.” After leaving the job Panna headed back to her home to meet her mother. She got emotional and said, “When I handed over some money to my mother which I had earned during my stay in Rajmundri, she started crying. My mother used to love me a lot but couldn’t support me due to family restrictions. I left home after meeting her and left for Vishakhapatnam with a transgender friend of mine whom I met in Rajmundri and started working as a sex worker there.”
However, later her mother convinced her father to get Panna back home and they managed to get her back as well. But she was not able to stay at home hiding her identity as a transgender. Her siblings didn’t use to talk to her and people used to tease her whenever she stepped out of her house. Panna got fed up. She left her home finally and went back to Vishakapatnam. She stayed there for a while and came to the infamous red light area of Grant Road in Mumbai, where she met her Guru (Guru is equivalent to mother-father in community of trans-genders) and started working as a sex worker. She underwent surgery and transformed herself into woman.
Panna said, “After working 4-5 years in Mumbai, I came to Pune along with my boyfriend and stopped working as sex worker. Unfortunately our relationship didn’t work out but I decided that I will not work as a sex worker anymore and with the grace of god got a job at an NGO. There was no looking back after that. It has been more than 15 years now and I am working as social worker.” Panna has also adopted a girl who is studying in Hyderabad and is planning to do her Masters in Social work. Panna often visits her but doesn’t allow her to visit her home in red light area of Budhwar peth.
She said, “I had to bear all these difficulties in my life because there was no acceptance to the third gender. People like us are born in every religion and caste, but nobody accepts us. When such children are not accepted by their own parents how will society accept them? “There is a stigma in the mind of people about Hijras. Nobody cares about us. A person who is abandoned by parents has to go through a lot to sustain himself. There is no education, no work for us. That is why many trans-genders get
involved in sex work and begging for living. This system can only be changed if parents start accepting their transgender children. If they will accept them, everybody will accept them.” She added.
The story of 49-year-old Kumari Iyengar is no different from Panna. Kumari works as a dramatist now and has done various stage shows. She is from Mysore and was also born as a boy but her mind frame was that of a girl.
Despite having a boy’s body she used to behave like a girl and had often faced discrimination at home, school and elsewhere. She stopped going to school because of the regular harassment meted out to her by fellow students as well as teachers. Once she was molested by a teacher and decided not to go school again.
At the age of 14, Kumari left Mysore and went to Mandya where shestarted working in a drama
company as a dancer as she was good at it. There she met another transgender who asked her to go to Mumbai as she will get a better opportunity there to work as a dancer. Unfortunately, she landed up in a brothel in Grant Road and had to work there forcefully for eight months.
She said, “I didn’t even have a slightest of an idea that I would have to work as a sex worker in Mumbai. A day after I reached there, the brothel owner took me to a nice store and did a lot of shopping for me. In evening, she asked me to get ready and do make up. I was under the impression that I have to perform dance but I was told to go down stairs on the road and had to get a customer to sleep with me. I was terrified and denied to do that, but couldn’t resist as brothel owner told me that she has spent 10,000 on my shopping and I cannot leave without paying that.”
Kumari worked for eight months in the brothel and managed to escape from there after making a cooked-up story about her mother’s illness. She was given only 3000 as compensation for eight months Kumari informed that she came back to Mandya and again started working with the Drama Company and worked there for two years. At the age of 17, on the advice of one of her transgender friends, she came to Pune and started working as sex worker. She said, “In Pune I didn’t have to work as a sex slave, I had my own independence to go out with the customer.
Gradually, I started learning harmonium from a music teacher and with his advice and guidance I came in contact with various other artists with whom I started performing again and left prostitution.”“I was lucky enough to come out of the clutches of prostitution but there are many in my community who cannot come out as they know they will not be accepted and get a work to earn their livelihood,” added Kumari.
However, 30-year old Kritika (name changed on request), who was once a sex worker, managed to study and is currently working as a lab assistant in Maharashtra institute of technology in Pune. She informed Tehelka that she left her family when she was in 10th grade and started living with the people of the transgender community.
Kritika said, “I continued with my studies and had to indulge in sprostitution for 2-3 years to fund my
education but left it after completing my studies. I got a job now of a lab assistant but had to face discrimination at work place. People look in a different way towards a transgender. They avoid communicating with you” Kritika said that after the Supreme Court order, which recognised transgender as third gender, she started wearing sari to go to office and was about to lose her job for doing that. She said, “Earlier I used to go in pant-shirt but after the order I started going to work in sari which didn’t go well with the authorities and they were about to throw me out of the job. But after the intervention of a senior political leader whom I approached they didn’t bother me.”
According to a census conducted in 2014, there are around 4,90,000 trans-genders in India. But even after getting recognition by the Supreme Court, they are still struggling for the acceptance in society.
It is important to note that the children who are born as trans-genders with genital deformities
are generally handed over by their parents to eunuchs and many times are abandoned by them