A 30-year-old woman holds a double masters degree in English and Geography, has a B.Ed degree and has been teaching in a school for the last 10 years. She hails from a middle-class family and lives with her mother near Thakurpukur in Kolkata. Due to her financial condition, she is looking for better opportunities but hardly anything is coming up her way.
This situation in life will pass for an ordinary story of a normal woman. Right? But, will it make any difference if we tell you she was a man before and only after a sex-reassignment surgery (SRS), she became a woman?
Certainly, it will! Because in a country like India there are very strict gender expectations and once you fail to fit in that circle, society almost treats you like an outcast. This exactly what the third gender in our country is going through. Be it choosing an outfit, going for shopping, sitting in an interview, choosing a partner or going to a restroom- you are always under scanner because you will be told by the society to behave in a particular manner.
Suchitra Dey, in a candid conversation with LifeBeyondNumbers, speaks about the plight of being a trans woman and that how ignorance isn’t always a bliss. Even though her mother is now ready to accept her for who she is and not for what she wants her to be, she says, the mindset of people in the city needs a lot of transformation.
Suchitra was Hiranmoy Dey before the Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) in 2007. She always felt trapped in a male body, so it was necessary for her to get the female body. She says that her physical sex and psychological sex was not in sync and therefore she did what she thought was best for herself. She felt that she was trapped in a cage and wanted to feel free. This is not a story of tragedy, but a story of hope and courage.
For people belonging to the LGBTQ community, something as simple as using a public restroom becomes challenging.
India HIV/AIDS Alliance reports say, “From January to November 2014, over 800 cases of violence against transgender persons, hijras, and men who have sex with men were recorded in 17 states. In India around 10% i.e 125 million of the population is non-heterosexual. This includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.”
Why is ignorance not a bliss?
“I am suffering from gender dysphoria since childhood. When I started cross-dressing, people used to pass lewd remarks, sarcastic comments. People like us who belong from LGBTQ community are subjected to humiliation and mockery most of the time.”
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“While traveling to other cities, I have found the mindset about people from LGBTQ community has not changed. The sections that are not exposed to education (and also a majority of the educated lot), it is very difficult for them to accept that we are normal and a part of the society. From my experiences, I have seen that particularly people aged between 50 to 70 years have a rigid mindset and they do not like to invite change. With a stagnant mindset, they create a negative impact on young minds, asking them to practice the same behavior towards LGBTQ community like- ‘do not talk to them’ or ‘stay away from them’. Therefore they grow with this idea that we are not a part of the society.”
Is rape justified if you are a transgender woman or a man?
“I feel that we live in a male dominating society and therefore feminism doesn’t come to rescue when you face troubles in reality. I was physically abused during my college days and I was a victim of gang rape and was sodomized too. I couldn’t lodge a complaint with the police because I always feared that they will either not lodge the complaint or stigmatize me by calling me a homosexual. The problem is, the victim suffers her whole life and is discarded by the society but the accused moves around freely and many discard this crime as a mistake, which is shocking.”
“Still, I feel, there is a lot of difference between being a woman and being a trans woman. I have seen that people come forward and fight for women rights now and the moment the issue of a transgender woman crops up the whole scenario changes.”
When schools are open to a cisgender but not transgender…
When a person from the LGBTQ community appears for an interview, their sexual orientation is always under question. When people become too curious to know about your private parts, credentials take a back seat.
“In most cases, while giving interviews- I am asked to show my credentials, once I qualify for the post, they ask me about my gender and reject me saying you are a trans woman. They tell me that they are looking for cisgender and that there is no place for a woman like me in their school. When I told them, that the Supreme Court has granted permission that people like us can work, they disconnected the phone.”
Even though in 2014, the Supreme Court recognised transgenders as a ‘third gender’, it is sad that people do not abide by the law and this is only because they know that people like Suchitra cannot raise their voice in this country and therefore to misbehave with people from this community has been tagged as normal.
Another lady principal said that her credentials and gender do not match. She asked her to change her credentials or her gender because all the certificates said that she was a male back then. She was asked to come in male uniform if she wanted a job.
The list of humiliation doesn’t stop there. A male principal of a well-known school asked her whether her breast can produce milk and if she has intercourse, whether she will be able to produce a child. Rejecting the humiliation that came with these absurd questions, she answered them all thinking she might get the job and will be able to cope up with her financial crisis, but that never happened.
With people like this around, how is Suchitra, going to upgrade herself in her career? Is there a void ahead?
Having seen both sides of the gender…
Suchitra says, “I have always believed that how you feel inside is much more important than how you look. Through yoga and meditation, I embarked on the journey of self-realization and the moment you discover yourself, you feel contentment.”
“Over the years, I have found that love and attachment are two separate things. People often tend to get attached to and dependent on the people they love or care about. While I was in a relationship and wanted to marry a man, I realized that it was not possible with this body. Similarly, in another case, after being in a relationship for a while, I came to know my partner was already married. I had to let go of people I loved, both times with this understanding that it is not the end of the world and there is so much more to life than just wallowing in self-pity.”
What needs to be changed?
“I feel if in the private sectors, at least even 2 posts are reserved for people from the LGBTQ community, we will soon become part of the mainstream. They can live a decent life doing a respectable job. Else most transgenders end up begging or have to become sex worker for the sake of money.
In Indian Penal Code, there is no punishment for discrimination against us. Even though we get raped, there is no punishable offense. Rapists are living a comfortable life now. Else we will always remain a subject to mockery.”
Friends who became family during Suchitra’s Crisis
When her own family didn’t stand by her side, an eminent singer in Kolkata Piya Acharya, who is is more of a sister to her now helped her.
“We are sisters not by blood but by bond,” says Suchitra. Acharya stood with Suchitra in her hardest times, from providing shelter during her operation to emotionally supporting her, she has done everything for Suchitra.
Some of her other friends, Sunita Chakraborty, Sunita Nausad, Aditi Debnath, Amrita Mondal were with her when most people close to her rejected her choices. A transwoman herself, Dr. Manabi Bandopadhyay has helped her in the time of emergency.
“Dr. Manoj Khanna saved my life when I was about to die during the surgery, he took charge of the whole thing and helped me a lot.”
“I lost my father at a very young age but, I still doubt if he were alive, there were high chances that he would have rejected me as his child and blame me for my choices.”
When your family stands through thick and thin, it means a lot, you are able to fight the odds and live a respectable life no matter what. “My mother has now accepted me for who I am, she has understood my plight.”
Acceptance is the key
“I am not associated with any NGO, but I do raise my voice against any issue concerning LGBTQ community. I believe if you believe in something and do that in good faith, it always works.”
“I strongly believe that only through education, there can be a great shift in the mindset of the people around them. I feel it brings about the consciousness, and further, it leads to revolution and changes. When you are educated, you know the proper decorum of how to behave in the society. We should be polite and humble to each other in the society. The education should seep in body, mind, and soul- we should practice what we preach.”