Language is more than a means of communication; it is the way through which cultures, traditions, morals are passed from one generation to next. Most languages employ a binary of gender, and this gender is either masculine or feminine. We are raised in this gendered language and we come to view this binary as natural and normal. In this view, transgenders are seen as abnormal and as a curse.
In Kashmiri language there are different words and phrases which exclude and otherise transgender people. These phrases describe the two genders as either men or women. It is said in Kashmiri, “Zanani hundya wungandun ta chavun, vethi hundya wunvoblawun, viri hundya wuntakhchawun, mard sundyawun dun”. It means a woman’s beauty is in her dress and jewellery, Vitasta’s beauty in its waves, willow’s beauty in branches, and man’s beauty in his wealth. Here, mard is men and zanana is women. Gender roles are defined and the idea created that women belong to the private sphere while men have to earn money, thus they belong to the public sphere. There is no mention of the experience of transgenders. If a man is interested in feminine characteristics and women’s dresses, it is considered as a funny or shameful thing. A man is not expected to wear jewellery and garments that women wear.
Another phrase commonly used in Kashmir is, “Mev chi zetrei mish nishgovnajat”. It means there are two fruits only: one male and the other female, and god protect us from the third. This third here is the transgender, considered as a curse and God’s punishment on a family. Our society is heteronormative where heterosexual masculinity and heterosexual femininity is considered as normal and natural. If a person who has been assigned the male gender at birth expresses any interest in the feminine, it is immediately squashed and the boy is made to feel isolated and different. The son is considered as a disgrace to the family when he adopts feminine characteristics. Society devalues men who break this binary and identify as women or transgender. If a person in Kashmir cross dresses or behaves in a feminine way, he is called derogatory names such as Zananmohnev and Laanch. These words mean lacking in masculine power, sexual power, weak.
Transgenders are bullied, harassed, and laughed at by people on a daily basis. They are excluded and forced to live an invisible life.
The writer has done an MA in Political Science at Central University of Kashmir. [email protected]