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By: Anna Theress T Chiramel
Transgenders: Life, Career and Challenges
The article below is what I learnt while doing my dissertation project for my PGDM program. The dissertation was a qualitative study (in the HR domain) to find out the Effect of Training and the Job Challenges experienced by Transgenders employed by the Kochi Metro. For my study I interviewed over 15 transgenders in Kochi and I learnt a lot about this group while doing my data collection and I thought I should share it with others.
About Transgenders: First, the difference between sex and gender is important to note. Gender is an internal sense of being male or female and is based on societal or cultural definitions of masculine or feminine. Sex refers to differences in chromosomes, hormones and external and internal sex organs. The third gender or third sex is a concept in which individuals are categorized, either by themselves or by society, as neither man nor woman. A common misconception is that a transgender person or a third gender person is a gay. However, being transgender focuses on gender identity and not sexual orientation. The status of transgenders as a mental disorder is widely disputed. Many transgender people experience gender dysphoria, which is a disconnect between one's assigned sex at birth and the gender which the individual identifies with.
Transgenders divide themselves as transgenders and transsexuals. Transsexuals are the transgenders who have undergone Sex Reassignment Surgery and those who haven’t undergone the surgery are commonly referred to as transgenders. Additionally there are two types of transgenders – Male to Female and Female to Male. Generally Male to Female transgenders are more visible or identifiable and whereas Female to Male transgenders are not easy to identify.
Those who expressed gender non-conformity while in school reported alarming rates of harassment (78%), physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%); harassment is so severe that it can lead about 15-20% of them to leave school. When we don’t learn about queer or trans people in our Social Studies, History, or English classes, we inadvertently learn that they don’t exist and that they have not shaped the world to be what it is. If Queer and Trans Studies can help LGBTQ people to live ordinary and extraordinary lives, we should integrate them into every educational institution across the world.
Transgenders in India: Transgenders in India have a unique position. They have been revered from the time of Mahabharata and Ramayan. When Rama asked all the men and women to stop following him on exile, the Hijaras remained and were the only companions of Rama during his banishment for 14 years. Mohini was the female birth of Krishna and therefore plays a significant role in the mythology of transgenders. Hijra Culture is a culture which prevails in transgender communities all over India except in Kerala. Hijra culture exhibits a relation between Master and disciple also called Guru- Chela relationships. Hijra Culture is important to transgenders as most of them do not have a family to support or take care of them. As their earning capacity is very limited and most of them have abandoned their home, their community is their shelter. In their culture a new member to their community is adopted by an existing member of the community by giving Jamat amount to the Naiks who are the experienced and aged authoritative person in a house. This amount will be collected back from the adopted new member. The relation is similar to the relation of a mother and daughter. A Mother can adopt as many daughters as she want. The first daughter will have the right to all the properties of the mother. Daughters of the same mother address each other as ‘Guru Bhai’, which means Siblings. All terms related to relations are mainly mentioned in masculine terms even though the community includes not only male to female transgenders, but also female to male and bisexuals.
Respect is very much valued and insisted on in the Hijra culture. Each and every younger transgender by experience should say ‘pambadathi’ to the elders by experience, which means ‘I touch your feet and respect you’. This is a mandatory custom that should be followed and the reluctance of which will lead to punishment. An Elder is decided based on experience and not by age. One of the main festivals for the transgenders is Koovakam festival. Every year, between April and May, thousands of transgenders from across the country converge at the Koothandavar Temple in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu for the annual Koovagam Festival which runs for 18 days. The festival, which has been observed for hundreds of years is based on the epic Mahabharata story of Krishna’s assumption as Mohini.
While they are revered as in being invited to bless a new born, or new house, ironically their condition is in many ways pathetic due to their exclusion from society.
Transgenders in Kerala: In Kerala, unlike any other states in India, they are not considered divine nor are they respected in society. They are over discriminated against as they lack conformity to the social norms of Kerala. Kerala has a highly moralistic culture which frowns on sex work. But the prime earning methods for transgenders are begging, make up work, and sex work. This results in discrimination and avoidance by the society. It is during this worst condition of Transgenders, that the Kerala government brought out the Transgender Policy which helped them to choose their career path and freedom to express their gender identity.
Kerala is the very first state in India to unveil the Transgender Policy in 2015. This policy give them the Right to Equality, Freedom of Expression, Right to Dignity and Life without Violence, Right to Employment, Right to Equal Access to Education Services and Health Service, Right to Voice and Participation. Even though the policy was passed, the implementation side of it has been weak so far. Awareness of this new policy is still low.
To declare and acknowledge their presence in society, recently they conducted a beauty contest named ‘Dhwayah’ in 2017 at CIAL convention centre, Nedumbassery. It was an initiative by an association of transgenders in Kerala, Dhwayah Arts and Cultural Society. The beauty contest was exclusively for transgenders and many celebrities from the film industry came to be part of their audience and encourage their initiatives. While individually, many Malayalis may not have any problem in mingling with transgenders, they face discomfort while in public. Even some of the other transgenders who face gender identity problems would not talk to their community in the day time.
It was at these times of agitations in 2016, that they got an offer from the Kochi Metro to be their employees. Rajagiri College of Social Sciences was given the opportunity to train the short listed transgenders, for one month. 21 of them received the training, and some of them joined the Kochi Metro as contract employees through another agency.
Kochi Metro: The training in computers, communication, soft skills and job related skills in Rajagiri, had a good impact on them. They learnt to tone down their make-up and got tips on interpersonal skills. In addition to the skills they were equipped with, the training and the job opportunity also boosted their confidence and gave them a sense of hope. Being employed at Kochi Metro had a significant impact in improving their acceptability in society. While the steady salary and benefits were nothing to write home about, the collateral benefits were the respectful position in the society and the feeling of progress they experienced. They felt pride as they were openly in jobs other than their usual works, which brings only defame to them. This job offered the opportunity to prove their capability to integrate and to have all the rights of a human to live, to earn and to travel freely. As the first of the chosen transgender employees, they also had a feeling of accountability as Ambassadors of their community, towards the first state that openly approved their presence in society. This was a big step and one of the many and it gave me a lot of happiness to see that the climate for the transgenders seemed to be changing in our society.