“We have no standing in society. We are treated like untouchables. We do not even have a card to call ourselves citizens of the State.” A group of transgender people, who gathered at the office of the Democratic Youth Federation of India office here on Wednesday, was venting its anger and frustration at being excluded from society.
“We have no ration cards or election ID cards. Without these cards we cannot get jobs. The government does not have any job schemes or welfare schemes for us. Because of this, we are forced to beg for food and to pay rent,” said Rani (33) from Tumkur district. At 18, her family disowned her after she confessed her gender identity. After her father pronounced that his “son was dead” to him, Ms. Rani toured the State, before settling down in Mangalore.
Like her, for the past decade, a group of 30 transgender people, from Tumkur, Bellary, and Hassan districts, have made the coastal districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi their homes. Most of them have been shunned by their families, and find themselves in small collectives.
“In other districts, transgender people are revered as ‘ardhanarishvara’, while here there is fear and revulsion towards us,” said Ms. Rani. “When we sit in the section reserved for women in bus, they move away from us. The public do not touch us. Sometimes, they hurl abuses at us. Obviously, we feel bad. Aren’t we also human?” she said.
The ill-treatment they receive was because of misconceptions arising out of media reports stereotyping transgender people as prostitutes and thieves, said Ramya, another transgender from Hassan. In Mangalore, however, several people who “pretend” to be transgender in the city had immensely hurt their image, she said.
“Many male sex workers change into woman’s clothes, and beg in our name. They harass people and this has brought a bad name for us. They pretend to be transgender so they can carry out sex work (sic) at night. What angers us is that we have gone through the pain of being rejected by our family and society for being who we are, while these pretenders are taking advantage of it,” she said. Not having obtained a steady employment here, Ms. Ramya said she was forced to beg at Panambur beach.
The six transgenders, who gathered at the DYFI office, were candid about their suffering: some said that when collections were low, they have had to resort to prostitution. “We hate it. On days when we have not collected enough money, we dread the evenings because we have to turn into sex workers to pay for rent and food. All we ask is for the government to give us jobs, even as sweepers, to ensure we can rid ourselves off of begging and prostitution,” said Kalpana.
Being transgender, said Ms. Rani, is a mixture of pride and sadness. “It is not our fault that we are like this, and we are proud we are special and different. However, the way we are treated makes us all feel sad. We all hope to be ‘normal’ and raise a family with children. In my next life, I hope I am not born like this,” she said.