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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 44 October 22, 2022

Navigating the transgender community: education policy as a tool for inclusion in Karnataka | Anushka Singh Parihar

Friday 21 October 2022

by Anushka Singh Parihar *

Summary:

This policy brief aims to bring light to the current issues regarding the education of the transgender community. In 2021 Karnataka became the first state in India to provide 1% reservation to the transgender community in several government sectors but the issue surrounding their education remains unaddressed. If we take the 2011 census data into consideration there are more than a twenty thousand people who openly identify as transgender but only half of them have received the basic education. Due to the shame revolving around being ‘transgender’ parents often try to hide their queer kids away from society which result in many young teenagers running away from home or getting dropped off at the streets. Education is the basic right that a person living in a country deserves, education goes way beyond gender and sexuality. It is the responsibility of the government and other authority figures that they ensure people of all genders and sexualities get education without any judgements and discrimination. The easiest and simplest way to this would be to provide reservation in schools and universities all around the state and to ensure that the transgender students are not discriminated against at any level, making changes in the school curriculum to enforce a more gender fluid approach to teaching and building gender neutral washrooms would be really helpful.

Why is it important to address the issue?

It is crucial that we take the issue surrounding transgender education seriously as a lot of Transgender children are forced to quit their education due to harassment and bullying, impacting their chances of employment and societal integration. Later forced into working in the informal sector, primarily engaged in singing, dancing, begging and sex work to sustain their living because they often lack the educational skills to fend for themselves. According to a news report during the 2020 lockdown when the government announced that the estimated 4.8 lakh (census 2011) transgender will receive 1500 Rs as direct transfer it was discovered that a lot of people from the community didn’t own an identity card in their preferred names and recording their preferred gender identities. The process to acquire documents in their preferred name and gender included submitting various documents, letters, notifications and going to government offices. This option was thus limited to individuals who are educated. However, the process was shifted online since November 2020, with the launch of the National Portal for Transgender Persons. The portal requires individuals to log in, fill up a form and upload an identity proof which again limits it to the educated part of the community.

According to a survey in Kerala nearly 6 in 10 transgender persons in 2015 had dropped out of school due to "severe harassment" and gender-related negative experiences.

Sangama, a human rights organisation for individuals oppressed due to their sexual preferences did a report in which they interviewed 3,619 transgender persons—found that only 12% of the transgender persons surveyed were employed and half of the respondents made less than Rs 5,000 per month.
A similar study conducted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2017 among 900 transgender persons in four districts of Uttar Pradesh and the National Capital Region (NCR) found that three in four transgender persons in NCR and 82% in Uttar Pradesh were never in school or dropped out before grade X. Nearly 15% had no jobs and 69% were working in the informal sector. Three in four respondents were dissatisfied with their career or income generating activities and 53% were earning less than Rs 10,000 per month.

The stigma surrounding the transgender community and the need to sensitize the issue. 

UCLA Law School’s Williams Institute conducted a survey on attitudes towards transgender people across 23 countries. Through the survey it was reported that Indians were less familiar with transgender people than people in many other countries. The survey also showed that-

  • Only 20% of Indian respondents in the survey said they know a transgender person.
  • 49% agreed that they (transgenders) are committing a sin.
  • Also, 69% of Indians believe that transgender persons have a form of physical disability,
  • And 57% feel that they have a form of mental illness.

The numbers are horrifying for a nation whose pillars were built upon the vision of a society where there would be no discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, colour, sex, region etc. They envisaged the future of India as a country where there is no caste, religious, gender-based inequalities and egalitarian society is established. To say that the Indian constitution claims to provide equal opportunity and rights to every citizen. But in the context of Transgender, this does not seem to be reality.

In an interview Shreya a transwoman says, “We leave our families, the security and safety of our homes, only to plunge into poverty and destitution. All this so that we can wear a saree.” This small statement really shines a light at the Indian society and how they perceive the ‘hijra’ community.

Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, Karnatakareported a case in 2002, where four transgender sex workers, Seeta, Sheela, Vimla, and Malathi were picked up from the streets by the police and taken to Sampangiramanagara police station in Bangalore. In the police station, they were harassed and severely beaten up, resulting in injuries on their hands, arms, and feet. They were later released, without any charges, but with a warning that they should not be seen on the streets of Bangalore again. The PUCL-K also reported that this is not just one isolated incident and that in recent months, there have been an increasing number of similar incidents in Bangalore involving repeated harassment and physical abuse of kothi and hijra sex workers at the hands of the police, and sometimes, of society itself. The society or the people’s view of the transgender community places a huge part in how and why they are isolated of basic human rights like education, medical care, equal work opportunities etc. Needless to mention the lack of representation and awareness about the community is one of the many reasons why people perceive them in such a harsh manner.

Nishtha Nishant another transwoman in a recent interview talked about how, “There have been times when I have been told that my application was rejected for no reason other than my gender identity.” Nishtha also mentions society’s misconceptions and hatred towards transgender people. She goes on to say that this hatred is well noticeable in local trains, streets where trans people are beggars or sex workers. This needs to stop and they must be given opportunities like jobs and education.

Trans people are bullied, mocked and laughed at they also face various forms of gendered violence, harassment and discrimination both at home and in public spaces. A study by Humsafar Trust titled, “Situation and Needs Assessment of Transgender People in Three Major Cities in India,” carried out in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore, over the period between June 2017 and March 2018, found that -

  • 59 percent of respondents in the transgender community had experienced violence: the numbers were shockingly high with a 70 percent in Bangalore.
  • Across these three cities, ones’ own family and relatives were often perpetrators (22 percent),
  • Followed the common public, which is responsible for 21 percent of the cases of violence committed against transgender people.
    As much as it is important to make policies that could help better the situation of transgenders in Karnataka it is important that for the long term approach we take sensitisation of transgenders and the issue surrounding them seriously.

What can be done to improve the educational sector so it is more inclusive for the transgender community? 

When we talk about inclusion of the transgender community the very first step should be understanding what it means to be transgender. It is crucial that authorities and other individuals in charge should show patience, sensitivity and gain a clear understanding of the difference between sex and gender. While sex is biologically determined, gender is a social construct. A transgender person is someone who does not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. The term ’intersex’ is used when a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male. Also, it is important to understand that transgender is an umbrella term and a lot of other gender identities like nonbinary, agender etc fall into it.

During the global pandemic a lot of transgender people residing in Karnataka were kicked out of houses as they were not able to pay rents because their means of earning were informal and they were not able to arrange the money during the lockdown the Karnataka government issued an order providing relief to the transgender community in a lot of sectors like providing rations and a two months pension but no attempts were made to enquire or investigate about the root cause of the problem. But despite an estimated population of 4.8 million, only 5,711 transgender individuals received the bank transfer and 1,229 received the ration supplies.

Tinesh Chopade, advocacy manager at Humsafar Trust, an organisation working for the LGBTQIA+ community said that around 80% of the persons from the community did not have a bank account. When inquired as to why they found that this is simply because they have no documentation. The process to acquire documents in their preferred name and gender included submitting an affidavit to the district magistrate and a gazette notification. This meant going to government offices and meeting officials who may not be sensitised, and a long legal process. This option was thus limited to individuals who are educated or associated with a non-profit organisation working with the community.

Since November 2020, this process has shifted online with the launch of the National Portal for Transgender Persons. The portal, based on the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, requires individuals to log in, fill up a form and upload an identity proof. Since the launch, only 1,915 persons had applied for the certificate of identity. Nearly 85% of the documents are pending and only 227 cards have been issued. One of the reasons why online portal is inaccessible for a huge part of the community is that they have no idea how the online portal works. Hence, again limiting it to educated individuals or the ones associated with non profit organisations.

As the transgender community is a socially and educationally backward minority, providing them reservations in government schools and colleges would be a great start for inclusion and upliftment.

Although as simple as it sounds giving reservation to any community requires a deep understanding of it. Because even inside these small communities there are social classes that play a major role in the level of discrimination they are faced on a daily basis. And like almost every community in India caste discrimination exists even inside the transgender community.

Shamiba a transgender person in an interview with the diplomat talked about the caste discrimination inside the community. After a transgender person runs away from home to join the ‘Hijra’ community, they have to be accepted by a guru most of the time a person from the lower caste is denied acceptance. Transgender individuals belonging to upper caste tend to have easier access to government schemes and policies as compared to trans individuals belonging to lower caste.

In 2014, the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment, added ‘hijras’ to the other backward class (OBC) category. With this move, an identity was given to all the hijras irrespective to their official religion, caste and class. And a lot of well-known transgender personalities claim that there is no caste or religion-based discrimination inside the community.

But recently many transgenders belonging to a lower caste have come forward to talk about these baseless claims. Vidya, a Dalit transgender feminist writer and theatre artist, expresses concerns, saying that “savarna transgenders who have NGO funding” claim to falsely represent the community and direct all the benefits towards themselves. Similar claims were made by several other trans individuals belonging to different castes and religions.

Hence, its important that factors like caste, religion and social status are kept in mind while making sure that the reserved seats are equally distributed amongst everyone belonging to the community irrespective of religion or caste.

Is giving reservations all that needs to be done?

Absolutely not, as important as reservation is it is not all that needs to be done. Reservation is more of a short-term solution which after some point will start falling if other measures are not taken into consideration. In addition to reservations. Ensuring a safe and friendly environment should be the top priority.

  • Measures should be taken to make sure that the policy is easily accessible to every transgender student.

A lot of transgenders that did finish their education have at various occasions mentioned incidents of harassment, abuse and discrimination on the hands of both fellow students and teachers in charge. This discrimination forces a lot of students to drop out of school. As per the CBSE press release in 2020, there were 1,889,878 candidates in class 10 and 1,206,893 candidates in class 12. Among the students who registered for class 10 exam, only 19 were transgender persons. For class 12, only six were transgender persons.

Those are some shocking numbers but it gets worse when we take the 2011 Census data in consideration. In 2011, there were 54,854 transgender children below the age of six. These children are now between the ages of 10 and 16 and should currently be in schools. So, if only 19 and 6 transgender students showed up for the 2020 board exams where are all the other transgender children whose presence had been recorded by the Census.

  • Ensuring that there is no sort of discrimination or bullying.

According to a report conducted by International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in 2019, a transgender man from Bengaluru mentioned that studying became hard because everyone used to make fun of him, they didn’t want to sit with him or even touch him as if he had some disease. The teachers also sometimes made the trans student sit separately. Tired of the discrimination he finally decided to stop going to school. This is only one of the various cases of bullying and harassment faced by transgender students by both teachers and students in and out of school. Recently a 16-year-old boy committed suicide after he was faced with severe bullying and harassment by his fellow classmates and teachers, he was sexually assaulted in the boys washroom after which he went to the principal with complaints regarding the bullying she simply refused to intervene or punish the students. So, it’s important that the administration makes sure the students are heard and that there is no sort of discrimination against the students. This could be done by establishing an anti-bullying committee which addresses any sort harassment faced and at the same time works towards making sure that the school is safe.

  • Making changes in the school curriculum to enforce a more gender fluid approach to teaching would be helpful too.

Education is still a luxury to a lot of transgender children as they deal with a lot of stigmas both at home and at school. Hence, it is important that the schools are trans-friendly. Gender-inclusive education and curriculum can only lead to transformation in mainstream view of the transgender community. Teachers must be sensitized to deal with transgender children. This could be done through training programmes.

The curriculum could be restructured by adding the content related to transgender community; like their historical background, life style, culture, rituals, customs, life skills, psycho-social conditions, psycho-sexual aspects, legal provisions and schemes for their welfare must be included.

In addition of this it would be better to enhance the understanding among teachers and educators about transgender so that they will not hesitate to discuss issues related to this community. It will also help the teachers treat the transgender students sensitively.

  • Building gender neutral washrooms and giving a choice to pick out uniforms is another small step that can make a big change.

As simple and small this may sound but gender-neutral washrooms and an option to pick out their uniforms can be liberating for transgender students and would give them an assurance that the school is an inclusive and safe space for them to openly be themselves without worrying about any form of harassment. The transgender students should be allowed and have the right to use the washroom of their choice but since there have been numerous incidents of assault and harassment with trans individuals in men’s washroom it’s important that until it’s not safe we give them a space of their own. Educating the staff and student body and genders and sexualities would be helpful too as it would help them understand their peers better and would reduce the chances of discrimination or bullying.

* (Author: Anushka Singh Parihar is B.A. (psychology, sociology, economics)
| nshkparihar[at]gmail.com)

References

Study of human rights of transgenders as a third gender by Kerala development society
https://nhrc.nic.in/sites/default/files/Study_HR_transgender_03082018.pdf

Gendering of Development Data in India: Beyond the Binary by Brindaalakshmi.K
https://cis-india.org/raw/brindaalakshmi-k-gendering-development-data-india

Report of the Study of Impact of the COVID 19 and Lockdowns on the
Transgender Community in Karnataka by Gamana mahila samuha
https://vartagensex.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/128-gms-kn-tg-community-cvd-impct-study-jan21.pdf

What Does India’s Transgender Community Want?
https://thediplomat.com/2020/01/what-does-indias-transgender-community-want/

The Peculiar Position of India’s Third Gender
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/style/india-third-gender-hijras-transgender.html

Nishtha Nishant exclusive interview: I’m a transgender, but I’m myself
https://www.mid-day.com/mumbai-guide/famous-personalities/article/Nishtha-Nishant-exclusive-interview--I-am-a-transgender-I-am-myself-now-20304154

Human Rights violations against the transgender community by Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka (PUCL-K)
http://pucl.org/sites/default/files/reports/Human_Rights_Violations_against_the_Transgender_Community.pdf

Caste and Religion Create Barriers Within the Hijra Community
https://thewire.in/lgbtqia/caste-religion-hijra-community

Indian, Trans, A Unique Stance | Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju | TEDxBMSCE

Changing Gender Dynamics in Current Structure of India by Laxmi Narayan

An Indian transgender asks an uncomfortable question by Akkai Padmashali

Demigods: Inside India’s Transgender Community

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