In a country of approximately 138 crores, a small, yet significant, severely castigated 4.9 lakh belong to the transgender community. This number is just an official figure. Estimates suggest there are 50 to 60 lakh transgenders in India. Hmm, not even worthy of including in the census. As an Indian, the first thing that comes to anyone’s mind is the hijra, the chakka, the one clapping on the streets in a sari. This is all they are to us. We use these terms to insult someone. But, has anyone considered why that person, devoid of human rights, stamped as a low caste by society, wears a sari and claps, begging on the streets, at every signal, just to be rejected, even insulted at times, and maybe, just maybe, earn enough to get by that day, and then repeat.
Have you ever seen a transgender working in an office? You certainly won’t. Around 99 percent have suffered social rejection on more than one occasion, including from their family while 96 percent of transgenders are denied jobs and are forced to take low paying or undignified work for livelihood like badhais, sex work and begging. Around 50 to 60 percent of transgenders have never attended schools and faced discrimination. Around 57 percent are keen on getting sex-alignment surgery but don’t have money for it. 18 percent of them are physically abused, 62 percent are verbally abused in school. 15 percent are harassed by students as well as teachers. This community is even rejected by their own families, the very mothers that bear the child.
“For a trans woman, it’s like we are toys in the hand of patriarchy. We are molested, we are insulted. The courts even say that it is impossible for us to be molested. On the ground, it’s the same-old story. People call us chakka, hijra...we are called by a bunch of names. There is so much violence. In my community, there are thousands of Nirbhayas. You can’t imagine how many of the us are raped and killed.”
These are the words of Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a hijra, and a transgender activist. Laxmi was the first transgender person to represent Asia-Pacific at the United Nations. She has also represented her community and India on several international platforms including the World AIDS conference in Toronto. Laxmi has been a part of several NGOs which conduct LGBT activist work. In 2002, she became the president of the NGO DAI Welfare Society, which is the first registered and working organization for eunuchs in South Asia. In 2007, she started her own organization- Astitiva, an organization working to promote the welfare of sexual minorities, providing support and development.
Laxmi has frequently been seen on popular media, giving interviews, raising awareness, and standing up for her community. She was also a contestant in the fifth season of Big Boss. She starred in an award-winning documentary in 2005, Between the Lines: India's Third Gender. Laxmi has been a part of several such documentaries. In 2011, she starred in ‘Queens! Destiny of Dance’, an award-winning Bollywood movie about hijras, a movie that was critically appraised.
Laxmi, in 2015, published an autobiography titled ‘Me Hijra, Me Laxmi’, a book about Laxmis’s life, right from childhood. What Laxmi has been blessed with, unlike other transgenders in India, is that Laxmi had a “normal” life, a supportive family, good quality education, almost everything other transgenders are not fortunate enough for. When asked in an interview with Laxmi’s father regarding Laxmi’s sexuality, he answered blatantly: “if my child was handicapped would you even ask me whether I’d have asked him to leave home? And just because his sexual orientation is different?”
Laxmi Narayan Tripathi is a devoted Hindu, even preaches Hinduism- particularly because of the respect Hindus had for hijras in the past. Hijras were blessed to be demigods by Lord Rama. When he returned to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile, a group of transgenders waited to greet him. This was in lieu of Rama’s request asking his male and female followers not to wait. But this group did not consider themselves either. Lord Rama was pleased and blessed them. Even during Mughal rule in India, the community was well-respected, and they served as advisors to kings. The distinction and ill-treatment began in 1871, when the British Raj declared transgenders criminals, ceasing their property rights and exploiting the community. This castaway-ness continued until 2014 when the Supreme Court recognized trans as a third gender, a gateway to welfare and government benefits. Laxmi was a petitioner in the case, only after this change did she consider herself to be a citizen of India.
Even still, we see little change in the perception by society, who consider trans people only good enough to bless newlyweds and new-borns. Beyond that, every Indian knows the treatment. Laxmi, hence, tries to advocate the rights of her community through India’s diverse and strong cultural past- a sweet spot for Indians. Even though the country has a long way to go to end the discrimination and oppression, a deeply rooted mindset that has existed over generations, activists like Laxmi hope to thicken the silver lining to their cloud.
Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a Hindu, a Hijra, a Demigod is an activist. One fighting for change. Fighting for the rights of her community, nationally and internationally. She hopes to not see her community suffer- emotionally, physically, sexually. She hopes to not have her community beg for a few morsels. She hopes to give them a better education, equal job opportunities, a better life. What she ultimately wants from her country? “I want a prime minister from my community. I am not interested in being one. I am just paving the way,” she says.