Ashok Kumar/OneWorld South Asia
Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a veteran transgender rights activist, in an interview to OneWorld South Asia, said that decisions for the welfare of hijras should be taken on the very streets in India where they beg or sell their bodies for less than Rs 20. Excerpts from the interview:
OneWorld South Asia: What in your opinion is the major challenge for the transgender community in India?
Laxmi Narayan Tripathi: The biggest challenge is to tell the bureaucracy to make proper laws by meticulously identifying the needs of our community. We cannot take decisions for the community sitting in air-conditioned halls or the corridors of Shashtri Bhawan from where the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment works.
The decision for the welfare of transgenders should be taken on the same streets where the hijras are begging, where they sell their bodies for less than Rs 20.
Sex being a taboo in the society, sexual minorities like the transgenders face discrimination. We are not begging, we are just demanding our rights and it is a shame on society if we don’t get them.
OWSA: How can the transgenders regain their rightful place in our society?
Tripathi: I have always maintained that sexuality cannot be sold. It is the duty of the State to guarantee my human rights and my constitutional rights as a human being.
The transgenders are the keepers of the ancient Indian traditions of the Guru Shishya Parampara (Master-Disciple tradition). We are the true keepers of our age old culture, traditions and classical music in its various forms like ghazals, thumris and qawwalis.
OWSA: How can the government work towards building confidence of the transgenders, hijras?
Tripathi : The community has to be educated, the fear has to be removed. Why should I be considered as a man or a woman? I am a hijra, a transgender, and I accept the fact.
Why do vacancies advertised for various jobs look only for a man or woman? India needs proper anti-discriminatory laws. I really hate these boards when I see a man is required for work, or a woman is required for a work, why? Ideally, it should be that a person is required for a work and let that person be gay, lesbian, transgender, transsexual, trans-man, trans-woman or a hijra.
A transgender, gay or lesbian can work like any other man or a woman. It’s about productivity and we, too, are productive people.
OWSA: How could a greater acceptance of transgenders in society usher in a positive change?
Tripathi: About 300 years ago, we were one of the respected communities. But today, for a community that has been ostracized, and thrown out of the main stream society for more than three centuries (250 years of the British Raj that took away everything from us, and 67 years of our own Indian people), good days are yet be seen.
OWSA: What kind of a role can media play in removing the discrimination against transgenders?
Tripathi: Media has been the strongest ally of the youngest civil right movement led by the sexual minorities. It has helped the community in raising their concerns over several issues.
OWSA: Last year, India ruled that transgender people should be recognized as a third gender. How has this recognition helped the community?
Tripathi: The recognition to transgenders as the third gender by the Supreme Court of India has given dignity to our community. But you cannot empower anybody by a label alone. It’s just that we have got our dignity back.
Like, thousands of years back, the ancient mythical heroine, Draupdi, was stripped off her clothes, in the same way the society from the past 311 years has been stripping our community of its dignity.
Beyond third gender recognition, the government has a responsibility to provide a legal framework for putting an end to discrimination in jobs.
OWSA: What was the biggest highlight of the Third National Hijra Habba or the ‘Transgender Festival’ held in June in New Delhi?
Tripathi: The annual National Hijra Habba served as a platform where all the leaders from our community joined the mainstream policy makers for discussing several issues including increasing employment opportunities for the hijras.