The ‘Others' is a common terminology that we often come across while filling up forms and marking our respective gender on the paper. Think of some time back when no such provision was there in place except two options. A community that has been living alongside for centuries but never had the same privilege in terms of access to resources or even as such an adequate environment to grow up like the rest. Not to mention, a long process of change over the course of years has led to the community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender exercise some share of their rights. However, this continued sense of treating them as others and the unacceptability on the part of people adhering to strict conformist views on gender has created an obstacle in allowing all the lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender to enjoy their due share in the society. For a fact, it is their fundamental right to demand a fair and equal standing in democracy. A fact that is not acknowledged by many in the light of their age-old belief systems that preach gender acquired by a human after birth can either be male or female. This leads to the question of whether it is the sex or gender that defines an individual’s physical identity?
An individual’s sex is the biological orientation that one acquires at the time of birth but gender is the social connotation that is given to an individual after birth. It is right from this point that a fixed set of behaviour, habits and expectations are attached to men and women differently. Whereas women are viewed as the one with soft, kind and nurturing qualities and on the other hand men are associated with strength, wit and leadership qualities. This is how our social fabric retains its core essence that is based on preconceived notions suggesting that beliefs, customs, and purity in it remains as long as its thought processes run along conventional lines. Not to mention, even if there is the slightest discrepancy, then that outcome is forever condemned. Like, in this case, it is the transgender who has had to face great difficulties in getting accepted by the society. In India, there is a wide range of transgender identities: Hijras, Aravanis, Kothis, Jogtas and Shiv shaktis. These multiple identities give a notion of those transgressing social gender norms. All these subgroups have to face multiple forms of oppression.
Social Fabric of India
Passing comments and ridiculing a person’s gender identity are some common features of sexism and linked to gender stereotyping. Developing a line of segregation in the society by means of derogatory remarks and labels has been at the core of contemporary gender exclusive perceptions. One very common derogatory reference to a transgender is “chakka” which by its immediate use separates the person from the rest in order to make that person a subject of humiliation. Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a Transgender Rights activist, also represented India several times on the International platform, had once quoted, “I was a normal child but it is the world that made me feel different.” It is precisely not the way one is born into a community but judged upon what identity that a person is likely to assume in future. In a way the social stigma that gets itself attached to the identity of that person. In the wake of shrinking spaces for the LGBTQ like Laxmi, many more activists from the same community have come to the forefront to battle social exclusion. Gauri Sawant, a transgender activist and Harsh Iyer, an activist who is fighting for equal rights for the LGBT are some eminent examples from this field. Activist Kalki Subramaniam opened the first Transgender School in Kochi by the name of Sahaj International. She highlights how a denial of access to certain essential resources including proper schooling, health and employment continues to widen the gap between the transgenders and the rest.
Exclusion from family and society, restricted access to educational, health services and public spaces serve as obstacles to the basic foundation for an individual to grow and develop. With less or no education at all, it diminishes their prospects of getting better employment opportunities. The social stigma to a great extent has marginalized the transgender in society. Creating such hostile conditions for them in a way pushes them to the fringes of the society leading them to take work as a sex worker or at times resort to begging for their livelihood.
Role of Media
For a very long time, transgender characters have been a part of the film industry, known to play spectacular roles in specific genres. The positive portrayal is evident through movies like “Tamanna” where Paresh Rawal is known to have played the role of a eunuch in a supportive role. Another movie that hit the theatres in 1996, “Daayra” exploring the relationship between a transsexual character and a young girl. In spite of a few positive representations, these movies did not score well at the box office. Around the same time, another side of transgender was being portrayed on screen, the violent portrayal that was intercepted quickly by the viewers. Unfortunately, justice was not done to these characters as they were either displayed on the screen as horrific villains or as comical characters. Bollywood movies had tended to bring on screen the new, thriller, intimidating side of the hijra community which once again played its part in shaping minds of the larger audience and to an extent furthering them one step away from connecting with the transgender community. In movies like Sadak,1991, where Sadashiv Amrapurkar plays the role of a ruthless brothel keeper who forces young girls into a prostitution business. Another intimidating character played by Ashutosh Rana as Lajja Shankar, who sacrifices children as part of a ritual in the movie ‘Sangharsh’, 1999, which every viewer would be remembering till date due to the terrifying portrayal of that character onscreen. Yet again depicted as a eunuch in the movie ‘Murder 2’ is about a psychopath who sacrifices young girls. This depiction of transgender in a dark light has come out as a pattern found in a list of movies hitting the theatres.
In a broader context, the Indian movies have at times found itself on a controversial point due to its content. Movie makers have attempted to show gay and lesbian relationships onscreen. Onir, a film director, marked his directorial debut in the movie “My brother Nikhil” which beautifully covers the story revolving around a guy who contracts HIV AIDS following which his life begins to crumble down due to social pressure and isolation. At times, this love and sexual relationship is shown onscreen between individuals of the same sex is censored outright. When such content is not approved by some factions then it even takes violent forms. Unacceptability by few fundamentalist groups often makes it an issue of contention resulting in attacks at the movie theatres, as happened at the opening of one such movie, “The Fire” in 1996 which portrayed love between two women.
This is where media can step in, and, through a holistic approach, reflect other dimensions of a transgender’s life to the viewers. The programs sensitizing the public and highlighting the problems faced by the transgender is hardly ever communicated effectively throughout, be it on the health front, related to high HIV-AIDS number among those involved as sex workers or on societal lines. The important aspect that comes to fore is that in the 21st century when media plays a crucial role in shaping public’s opinion, it can strongly play a vital role in promoting the idea of gender mainstreaming through transgender talk shows, bringing the transgender Rights activists more frequently on news guest panels, and sharing their struggles and personal narratives, may well initiate more positive and accommodative approach among those indifferent or even ill-informed to the concerns of the third gender.
In fact, in recent years media has expanded its reach among the viewers and also has turned out to be more vocal. Reality shows, print media, social media tools have become very active in reporting and documenting the lives of transgender in Indian society. With campaigns like ‘Million voices' and other activism around sexual rights advocacy has increased in the wake of imposing section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. ‘One Billion Rising” which is a global movement to fight for violence against women has jointly worked with the transgender community like Kolkata Rista, providing a common platform to voice gender-based violence.
All these initiatives culminating into a voice, a voice that appeals to all the stakeholders in the society to participate and involve the “Others” in their social life. To understand, work and build relations with them who have had otherwise been on the marginalized lines. It is with respect to the recent Supreme Court verdict on decriminalizing section 377 that LGBTQ has now at least secured their legal rights against being labelled as criminals in the society. Even though it serves as the basis for this community to initiate a life of dignity, it demands more time and continuous efforts on the part of the state, society members and most importantly family, where an individual’s first interaction takes place, to integrate the LGBTQ into the mainstream.
It should be noted that given the present day scenario in India, it becomes equally significant for people to practice tolerance in a society having such a diverse setup. Instead of looking at it from a single perspective as an act of breakdown of traditional family values, it should be viewed from a wider perspective as an attempt towards gender inclusivity. A change that should not be seen from a myopic view of something causing moral degradation but rather as the evolution of the old value system defining new lines of gender. The third gender has been sharing the same space with us for centuries but their due recognition is often overlooked. Although over the years, awareness has greatly improved through various factors, what sincerely lacks is the will of the masses in accepting people of the third gender. Their marginalization will not end unless awareness is followed by acceptance.
Chakrapani, Venkatesan. (2010). Hijras-Transgender women in India: HIV, Human Rights and social exclusion. United Nations Development Program (UNDP), India. Retrieved from http://www.undp.org/content/dam/india/docs/hijras_transgender_in_india_hiv_human_rights_and_social_exclusion.pdf
Misra, Geetanjali. (2009). Decriminalizing homosexuality in India, Reproductive health matters. Taylor and Francis online. Retrieved from, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1016/S0968-8080(09)34478-X
IMAGE COURTESY: Youthkiawaaz
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