KU research suggests reservations in educational institutions and government jobs
Srinagar: Living just two kilometres from the home that had once always been hers, Hadi Jan lives alone in a small accommodation in Lal Bazar, Srinagar, after her parents objected to her wearing girls’ clothes and keeping her hair in a long ponytail. She recounts the daily discrimination she faced from her parents that eventually made her leave home at the age of 18. Jan said even after leaving her family, she faced innumerable challenges from society “which wouldn’t let her live in peace”.
“For the first few months after leaving, I had no money to buy food and pay the rent. Sometimes my siblings would come and give me money. Other times, I would go hungry and sleep without eating. Even my landlord would call me bad names,” Jan recollects.
Jan eventually felt she had to make the acquaintance of other transgender women to survive. It took her weeks to do so, and she found that most were either singing for marriages or arranging marriages for a living. “It was unacceptable to me to do this kind of job for a living. I was from a good family, and I felt that my doing such things would hurt my parents. I told them I wouldn’t do this, and they told me to go my own way,” Jan says.
After the differences with the community, Jan felt depressed and did not know what to do with her life. “I would spend most of my time in my room, sleeping and thinking what to do. I was penniless. My parents showed least interest in me, and my siblings stopped visiting me.”
Jan had left her studies at an early age, after facing harassment and mistreatment from fellow students and teachers at school. “They used to call me ‘lance’ at school,” Jan says.
‘Lance’ in local parlance means a person without a sexual identity and is freely used in Kashmir to refer to transgenders.
“My transgender experience is full of pain,” says Jan, eyes welling up with tears as she describes how unbearable her life was made at home and at school.
Jan says he was harassed and exploited by many but he never complained.
“I became a victim of exploitation just because I was a different,” she adds. “My family was never supportive. They just let these things happen to me. My father would always shout at me about getting a more boyish haircut instead of growing my hair,” she recalls. “He would yell at me, saying, ‘Do you want to be a woman? Don’t you even dream of it or you’ll be kicked out of the house.”’
Jan’s parents never even spoke of her desire to change her sexual identity. They could not accept the very possibility.
Jan says as she saw no hope of earning while living the single life, she decided to do what she had never dreamt of. She went everywhere looking for a job, “but when they noticed that I was transgender, they would tell me to go dance at marriages. I used to weep every day from the daily humiliation. There was no one to give me advice and support. Everyone abandoned me. I then took an extreme decision. It was pretty hard for me to even think about it.”
Jan turned to attract men. “I didn’t meet any pimp to seek clients. I just walked around the Dal Lake, wearing the best costume I could – nice clothes, good sandals – and beckoned people to come with me. It took me some days to attract anyone. My first client paid me well. It would split my soul apart, and I would cry afterwards for doing such a sordid thing.”
She earned enough money from it to last a year. After her money ran out, she once again began to feel depressed. She went back to the transgender community and they gave her a job matchmaking and singing at marriage parties. She took it as she didn’t want to go back to selling her body.
Jan now earns a meagre income as a matchmaker – a traditional profession for transgender women, along with singing and dancing.
Transgender women face intense discrimination in the Kashmir Valley. Rejected by their families and unrecognised as a distinct gender class, these women are just beginning to demand that society accept and honour them. Transgender women are asking the government to help them achieve financial independence, and they are calling on Muslim leaders to foster the bedrock Islamic virtues of tolerance and acceptance.
India legitimised opposition to same-sex relations in December 2013, when the Supreme Court upheld a colonial-era law that criminalises “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, as held by the Indian penal code. The crime of “unnatural offenses” is punishable by a sentence of up to 10 years.
Aijaz Ahmad Bund an LGBT activist and PhD scholar from Kashmir University’s department of social sciences research ‘Other Sex: A Study on Problems of Transgender Women of District Srinagar’ offers a grim picture using plain statistics. Its aim was “to accentuate the problems of transgender women and to formulate a set of recommendations to address these problems”.
“My prime motivation was to have the rights of the third-sex in Srinagar recognised because this is a section of people who have no identification in terms of gender. We identify gender as either male or female, totally excluding the third sex,” Bund said.
Out of the hundred transgenders interviewed for his research, Bund found 36 had migrated from rural areas. Of these, 16 had migrated due to harassment by friends and relatives, nine were disowned by their families, nine had migrated in search of jobs and two migrated in pursuit of education.
The study has suggested the formation of a transgender welfare board in Jammu and Kashmir, with an appeal to the government “for reservations in educational institutions and government jobs for such people”. Among other recommendations, Ajaz feels that sensitising people is foremost. “I think people’s attitudes towards transgenders must change because if we are looking at gender empowerment, it cannot come without empowerment of the third sex,” he adds.
Bund says transgender women are denied inheritance claims as well as a reserved quota in educational opportunities and government jobs.
The Indian Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Such protection should extend to transgender women, Bund says.
The transgender community has made a number of demands to the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) since 2013, such as for livelihood support, shelter homes, separate graveyards, social rehabilitation, education, intervention plan, welfare schemes. “We have not talked about sexual rights due to the sensitiveness of the subject in the Valley,” says Shabnum, who migrated from Handwara to Srinagar.
Bund says there was a cold response from the SHRC and “we were forced to withdraw the case”.
This year, Bund and two colleagues have filed a litigation in the High Court to press forward the transgender community’s demands. Bund says they are hopeful the demands of this community will be heard in the High Court.
In 2011, the Social Welfare department formulated an intervention plan for the community’s rehabilitation. But it was never implemented. “They told us it was up to the state government to implement this scheme,” says Shabnum.
The prevalence of transgender women will not become apparent to Kashmiris until their rights are protected, insists Bund.
“They are a minority group like disabled people, but still there are no legal provisions for them,” he says. “They are considered bearers of ill luck and are pushed to the wall by family and society.”
Bund says two transgenders were able to complete their masters and are currently working as fashion designers outside the state. “But this community has no representative voice to raise the issues they face, and they are left to fend for themselves,” Bund adds.
“If I was born in a wrong body, that is not my fault,” Hadi Jan says. “We also want to live a dignified life, free of discrimination and invisibility.”