What is still keeping transgender people from a successful career?

By Humra Laeeq

Shanavi Ponnusamy, a transwoman who aspires to work with Air India, recently became the face of transgender representation in India. The woman has recently rejected a position in the cabin crew of the airline. Next, she wrote a letter addressed to Ram Nath Kovind, India’s President regarding the same issue, requesting a mercy killing. Taking a radical position, she has demanded equal rights for not just herself but also members of her community. An issue that is never talked about in India and is overtly tabooed perhaps found a voice in Ponnusamy.

To put in context, Ponnusamy is a graduate engineer hailing from Tamil Nadu. She has had a history of working with Sutherland Global Services and also laid her hands on Air India customer support. Later, she underwent her transgender surgery in 2014. Two years later, she applied for a position in the cabin crew. Despite everything, Ponnusamy is a reigning model and actor who cleared all the parameters required for a ‘female’ cabin crew member. The 26-year-old received the call letter four times, but she never made it. What went wrong? Is it a genuine lack of skill or a prejudiced undermining of such a capable individual?

The buck stops with authorities?

Who is to be blamed? Evidence shows a lack on part of state and institutions to actively work towards the betterment of trans people in India. When inquired about Air India itself, Ponnusamy evidences that the company mentioned that “there is no policy regarding the recruitment of transgenders”. When she approached the Supreme Court in 2017, where she filed her complaint on the grounds of gender discrimination and violation of rights under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court compelled the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Air India to respond within four weeks, the time limit which was not adhered to at all.

Legal reforms alone are not enough

The loopholes exist not just in the formal systems but are instituted at the core of social frameworks in India. Transgender people are simultaneously the ‘Other’ category as well as the stigmatized people. Even though the state tries to make changes, the social load of stigma burdens significant improvement. In 2014, the Supreme Court did pass a revolutionary judgment that hoped to pave the way to protect the rights of transgender people in law. The apex court ruled that each individual has the right to identify and recognize their sexual orientation. Fundamental rights granted by the Constitution, a dream for the transgene were promised to be equally applicable to all. Yet, what fails them is the invisible discrimination that plays out as prejudiced decisions, recruitment processes and marginalizing the ‘Other‘. It is as ingrained as a socially oppressive system.

The idea then is of course to sustain the institutional fight against gender oppressive structures, but also to realize that these structures have an invisible framework beyond what is apparent. For that, reforms are needed not just by law or practices, but also by deconditioning ourselves from stigma and prejudice. It is high time we realize the diversity of human identity and develop identity tolerance to the same.


Featured image source: Flickr