The Struggles Transgender People Still Have to Face

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Sex and gender are two different concepts. A person's sex refers to his or her biological status as either male or female. The determination of a person's sex depends primarily on various physical characteristics, including chromosomes, reproductive anatomy and sex hormones. Gender, however is a societal construct that deals with the expected behaviours, roles and activities typically associated with the different sex. Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behaviour does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Gender Identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female or something else; gender expression refers to the way a person communicates gender identity to others through behaviour, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics (American Psychological Association).

Transgenders experience a constant stress and disconnect between their assigned sex and their internal sense of identity (Human Rights Commission). Medical professionals state this disconnect as gender dysphoria because it can cause pain and distress in the lives of transgender. To overcome the gender dysphoria and to transform from a cis gender to a transgender they undergo a genital surgery known as the gender reassignment surgery also known as gender affirmation surgery (Dr. Joshua Safer, Centre of Transgender Medicine and Surgery, Boston). Another traditional ceremony that the transgenders go through is called Nirvan (castration). However, these surgeries are beyond their affordability and parental unacceptance, most transgenders leave their homes and enter the jamaat community also known as the guru chela system.

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A transgender household is typically structured in a hierarchy often called as a guru- chela relationship, with few relatively permanent members. Around 53 per cent of transgenders live under gurus due to lack of accommodation (NHRC, 2015). Jamaat is an Islamic term which means coming together or a gathering. In a jamaat, each house within an area has a leader called a Naik/ Nayak (chief) who has gurus under her. Every transgender in this community has a guru and any form initiation in the group happens only when the chela is adopted by a guru. As a form of fee, the new members pay some amount to the guru which is then divided among Naiks. (Nanda, 2000). The Nayak is the head, and has gurus under her, who in turn has chelas and nati-chelas (grand-chelas) under them. The Nayak is the primary decision maker in the community. (Nanda 2000; Kalra 2011). Within the jamaat system, the guru is a guardian of her chelas. They provide food, clothing and shelter to the chela and as a payback, the chelas earn and give full or some amount of their earnings to their guru (Nanda, 1996).

Most often, the young transgender leaves their homes and join the community because of parental rejection and lack of belongingness. Only 2 per cent transgenders live with their parents. (NHRC, 2015). Young transgender gets moral and emotional support from the community (Nanda, 2000). According to the study by Kerala Development Society sponsored by National Human Rights Commission in 2015, around 92 per cent transgenders are deprived from participating in the economic activities in India and hence the resort to begging and sex work. Around 96 per cent of them are compelled to undertake low – paying jobs or undignified work like begging, badhai, or prostitution. Above 23 per cent among the transgenders are forced to go for sex work which involves extreme health risks. The main source of income of 54.2 percent people was begging in train, 12.5 per cent were in private organisation and 5.6 per cent own business in Burdwan district in West Bengal (Naskar, Roy, Naskar & Gupta, 2018).

A study on problems faced by transgenders conducted by Dr. Khushboo in 2017 stated that social exclusion was a major concern. Transgenders were refrained from economic, livelihood and employment opportunities. “They lack social security and have limited access to public spaces”, the study adds. Almost 99 per cent of transgenders have suffered social rejections on more than one occasions (NHRC,2015). In May 2015, V.S. Shinu Asmy, & Dr. P. Nagaraj, conducted a research on preliminary problems faced in educating the third gender. It showed that the growing illiteracy rates are due to are zero acceptance level of transgenders, lack of family support and discrimination in school by the students. 50 to 60 per cent of transgenders never attended school and those who did, faced continuous harassment from classmates and teachers. Around 62 per cent were verbally abused in school, 15 per cent were harassed by teachers (NHRC). A major 22.2 per cent were illiterate in a district of West Bengal (Naskar, Roy, Naskar & Gupta, 2018). The structure of the transgender community also contributes to the illiteracy rates. Also, most transgenders belong to the low economic background and lower literacy level which restrict them from receiving proper health care (United Nations Development Program, 2010). Across the world transgender people experience high levels of stigma, discrimination, gender-based violence and abuse, marginalisation and social exclusion. This makes them less likely or able to access services, damage their health and puts them at higher risk of HIV. The high costs associated with transition healthcare can put extra pressure on transgender people to make money. Sex workers sometimes get paid more for unprotected sex, and often feel under pressure not to use a condom, which makes them highly vulnerable to HIV.

The risk of aggregated HIV prevalence was found to be 7.5 per cent in transgenders. HIV prevalence was estimated more than 10 per cent in Maharashtra. In districts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha and Tamil Nadu, the prevalence rate was above 5 per cent. In Hyderabad and Kolkata, the rate was 4.6 per cent and 4.8 per cent respectively. Physical violence is very prevalent in 1/5th of the population of transgenders and around 33 per cent faced physical abuse in Coimbatore. (National AIDS Control Organization, 2014-2015). In a study conducted in West Bengal in 2018, it was found that 98.6 per cent people were verbally abused, 79.2 per cent were physically abused, 33.3 per cent were sexually abused and 18.1 per cent faced childhood abuse at least once in lifetime. They reported cases of mental health like depression and suicidal tendencies due to stigma attached to them, lack of social support, discrimination and violence. Almost 20 per cent of them attempted suicide once or more in their lifetime (Nuskar, Roy, Nuskar & Gupta, 2018).

Although many researches were conducted on transgenders in India, required attention has not been brought to their plight. Hence there is a need to guide the transgender community towards better support system in terms of family support, education, health, employment, housing and so on. By understanding period of identification (coming out), the patterns within and outside the jamaat community, the usage of online and offline forums, modes of communication, and the shift from home to jamaat or guru-chela system, this study will help in bringing betterment in the living conditions of transgenders and their community, especially young transgenders, instilling acceptance among their families, facilitating guidance in transition surgeries, addressing education, housing, employment, and mental needs.

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