City’s Transgender Still Battling Out For Decent Living

Kolkata, May 6 (UNI) The Supreme Court judgement in 2014 giving recognition to the transgender people and eunuchs as “third gender” came as a ray of hope to the transgender community, but their struggle for livelihood still continues as development seems to be a far cry.

With the transgender bill still pending in parliament, the government is yet to take any constructive step towards them.

Aparna Banerjee, activist and member of West Bengal Transgender Development Board, told UNI today, “After the apex court verdict we were hopeful that there will be a major development in education, health and economic sectors, but with the bill pending we are quite uncertain.”

When asked about the response of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to their woes, Banerjee said, “The government always has the same answer that the bill is pending and nothing can be done at this point.”

The Supreme Court had directed the Centre and state to treat the “third gender” category people as socially and economically backward classes and to provide quotas for admission to educational institutions and in government jobs.

“As compared to earlier times, we have received acceptance to a larger extent in the society but livelihood discrimination still continues,” Banerjee said.

Recalling Atri Kar (27) moving Calcutta High Court in separate cases demanding inclusion of the third category in the application form of WBCS and jobs in the Railways and State Bank of India (SBI), she said, “It’s a long drawn fight for her because the SBI has moved court saying as the transgender bill is pending, she should not be allowed to write the examination.

“There is a deep-rooted stigma against transgender people followed by fear,” Banerjee rued.

At a time when they are denied jobs in private or public sectors, some of them have turned to the creative line and secondary means of livelihood for a decent living.

Koushik Hore, the founder of Sathrangi, a trans-feminine livelihood venture focusing on handicrafts, told UNI, “Under this venture, transgenders and women from the different sections of excluded communities besides, women artisans from rural and urban areas are creating jute products and other handicrafts.”

“Sathrangi is being funded by an Ahmedabad based organisation run by Anarben Patel, daughter of former Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel. We are working on product promotion, product value addition, providing technical support and online sale,” Hore said. At present eight ‘transwomen’ are associated with Sathrangi, he added.

Banerjee, also an entrepreneur, has a saree boutique in the city.

Sumon Sarkar, 35, a transgender, is a freelance makeup artist who works in the fashion and film industry.

Sarkar, a graduate and a Diploma holder in Mass Communication with specialisation in film studies, was always attracted towards the glamour world.

Asked about the rapid increase in transgender and eunuchs begging at traffic signals, Banerjee warned, “It would increase further in the near future if the government does not pass the bill soon and initiate steps for our better livelihood.”

Organisations in Bengal that are working for the rights of transgenders are Association of Transgender and Hijra (ATHB), Amitie Trust, Gour Banga Sangram Samiti in Malda, Notun Aalo in Dinajpur, Moitrayee in Barddhaman and Swapnil in Birbhum.

Dr Manabi Bandyopadhyay became the first transgender person in the country to be the principal of the Krishnagar Women’s College in Nadia district in 2015 and the first such person to complete her Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

Although Bandyopadhyay’s achievement had boosted the confidence of her community, it sadly did not bring much difference as the community is still fighting for a respectable life and sustainable livelihood.

Banerjee believes there is discrimination at the grassroots level as the school books talk only about the masculine and feminine gender and there is no mention of transgenders.

“We even do not have any existence in biology,” she lamented.

The majority of the people of LGBT community drops out of school on finding it difficult to bear the mental and physical harassment from teachers and students, she said.

Due to lack of knowledge and awareness, many members of the LGBT community fall prey to HIV, AIDS and Sexually Transmitted diseases.

Many of them also work as sex workers to be able to buy food and meet their day-to-day expenses.

Banerjee informed that health awareness programmes are conducted for them where they disseminate information on preventive measures.

“As transgender are denied decent jobs, they go to the villages of Bihar, where they perform ‘logon’ or ‘londa’ dance, a ceremonial money collection,” said Hore, who is originally from Malda near Bihar border.

He added, “They are sexually abused, raped, exploited and even murdered there.” The people who take them to different ceremonies “treat them as slaves”.

Sathrangi has brought under its umbrella many such trafficked and red light area survivors, he said, adding that they are economically empowered now.

“They are economically empowered now and earn with respect,” he added.

Earlier, police were oblivion, ignorant and biased towards their cause. They were also seen publicly thrashing and beating the eunuchs and transgenders.

However, their mindset and approach have changed largely.

“Police are sensible to our cause now, especially the Commissionerate and police headquarters at Lalbazar. They are respectful towards us now,” said Banerjee. Policemen in small police stations are still indifferent though.

Recently, Sarkar made a statement at an event in Kolkata: “We are not women. Do not push us towards feminisation.”

“I was born as a boy but I have not changed into a woman. I am a transgender.

Although I feel feminine inside, I have an objection if I am being proved to be a woman (ontore ami nari tobe amake nari proman korte gele apotti aache,” Sarkar explained.

Banerjee said it is due to lack of knowledge that transgender people are pushed towards ‘feminisation’.