Trans rights activists all around the world believe that diversity alone isn’t enough—political inclusion is the first step for the LGBT community and human rights in general.
In two successive developments in South Asia, those wheels have been set in motion.
On June 21, Naleena Prasheetha T, a transgender student of Chennai’s Loyola College, made history when she won the students’ union election to become the associate secretary. This is the first time that a transgender has been elected to the college union.
What’s happened in Thailand?
Two days before this, in Thailand, four transgender MPs scripted history by entering parliament for the first time and voting in the next Prime Minister.
On June 21, Tanwarin Sukkhapisit of the progressive FFP and three of her colleagues cast the first stone in closing a crucial gap in Thai society that is not very tolerant of the third gender despite having a prolific trans community.
Referring to token measures aiming to increase diversity, Tanwarin told AFP, “I am not here for decoration. I want to write a new political history for Thailand,” a conservative Buddhist-majority kingdom.
Also making history in Thailand was Kulchaya “Candy” Tansiri, the first trasngender model to be crowned the winner of season five of The Face Thailand. This marks a welcome change from segregated avenues of representation, because until now, trans people had their own wildly popular version of the beauty pageant known as Miss Tiffany.
Loyola College, meet your new A.Sec
A second-year MSc (Visual Communication) student, Naleena claims her victory sets an empowering example for transgender students whose presence in Indian student politics is limited.
“When I was pursuing my undergraduate course in the college, I campaigned for the same post in 2017. Though election that year was cancelled, I faced a tough time in campaigning due to the stigma attached to my community. But this year, it was a different experience. My election to the post reflects that I have managed to win the trust of fellow students,” said Naleena. “My election will give confidence to more transgenders to come out and follow their dreams.”
She spoke to reporters expressing her intent to represent women and transgender pupils. “My first priority is to empower women. Nowadays, women are falling prey to cyber crimes. I will organise awareness programmes to sensitise them, start self-defence classes and form women’s teams for cricket, volleyball, hockey etc.”
Election suggests real inclusion
College authorities have termed her victory as a sign that the college’s focus on uplifting the marginalised section is working. The fact that she was elected by peers shows that social acceptance is as important as affirmative action. Otherwise, empty tokenistic appointments often lead to harassment and resignation, as in the case of Krishnanagar College principal Dr. Manabi Bandyopadhyay, or even motivated murder in case of priestess Ranjitha in Tamil Nadu.
But Naleena worked hard to win the confidence of fellow students. “I campaigned for the same post in 2017. Though election that year was cancelled, I faced a tough time in campaigning due to the stigma attached to my community. But this year, it was a different experience,” she is quoted as saying.
Within days of her election, however, transwoman Uma from Kollam was found dead at Tirunelveli railway station, Queerala reported Tuesday. Just months ago, trans priestess Ranjitha was found beheaded inside a temple in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district.
The lack of authoritative action and justice denied in such cases further indicates that trans lives are not accorded the same importance as cis-gendered citizens. The criminally regressive transgender bill also underscores the lack of understanding that goes into framing inclusive policies for the third gender.
In Thailand too, despite featuring prominently on fashion magazines, transgender people are often passed over for jobs as teachers and civil servants and confined to entertainment gigs and sex work. Many critics attribute this to the rampant misrepresentation of the community in media, which is why the community finds legal acceptance but fewer opportunities and is considered as un-entitled to equal rights.
Decolonising gender rules
In a recent BBC report, Soutik Biswas writes that the existence of eunuchs in India had triggered a moral panic among the British in the late 1800s, who had until then enjoyed relative freedom and even thought to possess the power to curse or bless fertility in South Asia.
But Biswas notes that under the colonial rule, British commentators exceedingly evoked images of “filth, disease, contagion and contamination” whenever they spoke of trans men and women, and the very same government that criminalised homosexuality in India for the first time portrayed transgender people as “addicted to sex with men”. Officials also said they were not only a danger to “public morals”, but also a “threat to colonial political authority”.
It has taken India nearly 70 years to finally designate and legally acknowledge the third gender, and we should not squander away the opportunities it gives allies and policymakers to make things right. The country now boasts of transgender lawyers such as Sathyasri Sharmila, transwomen cops such as K Prithika Yashini, models, influencers, actors, and authors.
But continued violence and discrimination against the community betray that this inclusion is only skin deep and in desperate need of a cultural breakthrough.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius
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