“I used to wake up in the morning, apply makeup and went to beg at railway platforms,” this is not your childhood dream, says this woman from Malda who is now India’s first transgender Operation Theatre Technician in an Indian hospital.
Jiya Das, in a candid conversation with Life Beyond Numbers, explains how life looks like when you are a transgender. She says, “When you know where the problem lies in your life, you can try to fix it, but it was late when I realized that I was abused throughout by people around me for belonging to the third gender.”
Growing up as a Transgender
Born as Jishu Das, life was not easy for Jiya, when she came to know for the first time that she is a woman trapped in a man’s body.
A graduate in Sanskrit, Jiya stayed in a small house with her parents and a sister. After her father underwent a heart surgery, she had to look for jobs to support her family of four. “There was always financial restraints in my family, so I never had the liberty to relax and focus on my career.”
“It was around 2007, I came across a video of myself dancing in a family occasion and then I realized that I was different from the rest. I observed the moves I made, the way I responded and things started to make sense after a while and I understood why people stared at me or misbehaved with me.”
When you are identified as the third gender in a country which has strict gender rules, it is difficult to live a normal life. “I liked playing with toys meant for girls and that used to offend my family and relatives.” Adding to this she says, it is not fair to punish someone for belonging to the third gender. “I was scolded now and then, and once my father threw me out of the house.”
“I had a very difficult childhood and while I was figuring things out on my own and was not clear about my identity, I faced verbal and physical abuses from people around me.”
Because of the taboo surrounding LGBTQI community, many people are skeptical to discuss the issues in open, forget about helping them. As a result, many who belong to this community grow in fear and shame and think that something is wrong with them.
Dealing with Abuse
“My school days were equally difficult because people used to call me names- “ladies”, “chakka”, “boudi” and I used to feel all the time that why is it fair to pick me up from the crowd and abuse me like that? I felt lonely, sad and used to question myself that why I am not like other people and what was wrong with me,” says Jiya.
Unable to find work because of being a transgender, Jiya had to look for odd jobs. She joined a dancing troupe of transgenders who used to perform in Bihar and Delhi. In 2016, Jiya recalls how she was forced to dance at gunpoint in soirees in Bihar because she denied accompanying a man who asked for sexual favors.
Lack of opportunities forces people from the LGBTQ community, particularly transgenders to end up as sex workers or beggars. “It is so difficult when you are stripped of your pride because of who you are,” says Jiya. In this case, qualifications take a back seat and the whole focus is on their physical appearance.
A Life of Dignity and Respect
Jiya used to work 12 hours a day in Care and Cure Hospital in Barasat but coming back home in Ballygunge was really difficult because of the distance, so she had to quit. “It is good that now I am not dependent on anyone and I am strong enough to take care of myself and live life on my own terms.”
In 2016, in an event organized by Jiya and other members of her community, “Saathrangi”, a health entrepreneur approached two members from the transgender community and told them that he wishes to train two members as OT technicians, and Jiya was one of them.
It was Dr. Satadal Saha who provided financial support to Jiya to pursue her training. Saha is the founder of School for Skills: Allied Health Sciences (SFSAHS), an organization that offers training to transwoman in paramedical courses free of cost as a pilot project.
Apart from that, Bappaditya Mukherjee, who is the founder and executive director of Prantakatha and has been working for marginalized youths provided support and helped Jiya to find a way out of difficult situations.
Now, Jiya is pursuing her internship at a super specialty clinic Medica in Kolkata where she is given decent stipends and she feels happy to say that “it is the only place where people do not stare at me when I pass. I feel part of the crowd and it is a huge difference in my life because I have always craved for acceptance.”
Jiya says she is lucky not to face monetary exploitation till now and is treated at par with others at her workplace. She will soon be going through a sex-reassignment surgery and the medications and treatments have already begun, “It seems like I am going to have a new life,” she adds.
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are,” an American poet, E.E Cummings once said.
It’s high time that we should stop judging people on the basis of their gender. Transgender people are often misunderstood and mistreated across the world. They are not asking for sympathy but they are craving for love and acceptance. Save your face, by helping them and making them feel safe in the society!