My Transformed Opinion – Sampada S. Venkatesh

April 24, 2018

As a debater, I’ve been exposed to stories of transgender people, and have spoken on motions like “This House Believes That the Trans Community Should Actively Seek to Separate Themselves (their issues and their collective identity) from the LGBTQ+ Movement”, but I realise now that I had little to no understanding of the issues the community really faces, and am (hopefully!) better informed now.

While every session at Transform was informative, I especially liked those where the speakers narrated their stories and talked about what they do for the community. From Uma Umesh I learnt that the while some families of trans people can be supportive – the story of a child whose teachers bullied her in school, and her mother tried complaining, but the child took her life; others could send their trans-children to “correction” therapy and prevent them from becoming a part of the Hijra Community. From Vihaan Peethambar I learnt that when someone comes out as trans, everyone else seems to forget that the person is still an individual with thoughts and talents, and suddenly all that matters is that they’re trans. His anecdote of when he visited a doctor who could verify that he’s had Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS), but the doctor just trembled before him struck me hard – that trans-people are treated as monsters. Additionally, that while governments seem progressive and have the best laws on paper, they fail in the actual delivery – where departments haven’t been instructed, and forms don’t provide the option of “Gender Change”. This was clearly brought out by Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli as well, who argued that even while in search of simple data, government inefficiency is evident – one is continuously asked to go to another department, and that even when PILs are filed, responses aren’t got. From Mona Lisa, I learnt about the functioning of the hierarchical guruchela system where elders are respected, and that these families are recognised for ration.

From the evidence of court cases provided by Jayna Kothari, Audrey Mbugua and Prof.Carlos J. Zelada, I was disappointed to note that it can take up-to 6 years just to be recognised as trans, or even for a name change,and even then, they may not be successful. The survey data presented by Prof. Siddharth Swaminathan was especially interesting because it displayed how people (across the spectrum of rural-urban, nationalist-liberalist) react towards the trans community, and the conclusions drawn from it.

One of the most inspiring people I met at the conference was Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, who said she’s a medical student because she understands the troubles faced by trans people at medical centres and wants to become a surgeon who provides SRS for no charge. Trans people are likelier to suffer from thyroid problems because of their hormone supplements, UTIs and kidney problems. Unfortunately, doctors are ill-equipped to treat them because they’re scared, or nurses are pushing the patient from the female to male ward, not knowing where to treat them.

While I am fully in support of empowerment of the community, I identified two tensions in their case. First, as was seen in the passionate discussion that took place between Justice Manjula Chellur and people of the trans community – they didn’t want to listen to her perspective and said they didn’t care for what she had to say. This is problematic because the judge’s perspective is integral to the implementation of the law. Second is that a person must not be made to provide proof to show that they are trans as it is a violation of their Right to Privacy, but at the same time, a trans person must avail all the benefits given to the community. Both cannot coexist.

The biggest learning for me was that while I used to think of the word trans as an umbrella, and that blanket regulations were sufficient, I know now that every individual suffers differently and wants something different from the law. I think this was evidenced by Grace Banu when she spoke about the intersectional troubles of being a trans Dalit, and how discrimination within the community is prevalent. This is where Prof. Sudhir Krishnaswamy’s questions on how reservation must be given, and whether the trans community must be treated as a separate caste or distinct gender were relevant. It was also clear when Aparna Banerjee spoke about how she doesn’t want the bill, which was not the opinion of all members present. I believe that there must be dialogue not just between the community and the law-makers, but also within the community itself to prioritise certain issues and fight for those.

(Sampada S. Venkatesh, an 11th grade student at National Public School, Indiranagar, Bangalore, is currently an intern at CLPR. She helped CLPR with the Conference and attended it. She has a passion for debating, enjoys doing art in her free time and devours books faster than she does food!)