Raveena Bariha, the fire brand graduate tribal hijra activist from Chhattisgarh (a relatively backward state of India) is lovingly called the chhota bomb and chhota rocket. At the recently concluded National Hijra Habba Consultation and Cultural Event, which was organized by Pehchân project, in association with India HIV/AIDS Alliance in Delhi, her diminutive frame dressed in a cotton salwar kurta without any jewellery stood apart from the other ornately dressed participants of her community. Raveena spoke to CNS about the hopes and aspirations, the trials and tribulations of the transgender and hijra/kinnar community.
This is what she had to say:
“As I am a kinnar, I have personally faced the problems affecting them. I have suffered a lot of taunts, jeers, disrespect, and discrimination even as a student and completed my graduation in very difficult circumstances. I know that the people of my community have a lot of ability to do well in life. What they really need is an enabling environment and some encouragement. It is for this reason that I started working full time for the broader good of my community in 2008, after resigning from a government teaching job. It was a hard decision as I was earning Rs 9000 per month. I then worked for some time as assistant editor for a Hindi press Hari bhoomi, and then with the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) for targeted interventions in men who have sex with men (MSM) and hijra community. Then I formed my organization ‘Chhattisgarh Mitwa Sankalp Samiti’. Today 2000 hijra members are registered under it. Chhattisgarh is a relatively new state of India and the government is very proactive. We had recently given an application to the Chief Minister for formation of Welfare Board for Transgenders and the administration has already worked out the Board’s structure. I think that Chhattisgarh will be the second state after Tamilnadu, where such a board will become functional within the next few months. So it has been a fast process as compared to other states. We are collectively working on other issues too- like education, tree plantation, Anna Hazare’s anticorruption movement - just to help make the kinnars stay in the mainstream of society.
The main problem is the stigma and rejection the transgenders/hijras face in society. As soon as people come to know about their status the process of discrimination begins. This partly stems from ignorance of the people who only know about the male and female sex and are not even aware of the existence of a third sex. I am sure that if people are more informed about gender then 80% of the discrimination will vanish. So it would be helpful if information about the third sex is made part of the educational syllabus so that students are sensitized about this issue. We also need more legal awareness and sensitivity in law enforcers.
Also the community members should not fight amongst themselves but work together for their own betterment and rise above petty matters of colour, caste, creed, dress, etc. We have to remain united to get our rights. Our traditional behavior which makes us conspicuous and stand out in a crowd, stems from the natural human tendency to identify ones gender and sexuality through different means—dress, manner of talking, gesturing etc. Perhaps the gesture of clapping and dressing gaudily started to fulfill this urge. The community will have to move out of its traditional stereotype image and change its behavioral pattern to join the mainstream of society, so that others do not feel uncomfortable in their presence. It is the duty of the community leaders to mould existing perceptions and bring about positive changes in the existing traditions of the community which are detrimental to their growth. This is not just a social issue but a psychological issue as well. In our society mental hardships and problems still take a back bench and are not addressed properly. If we can address the problem of discrimination then all other problems will be taken care of.
I think that the enormous potential of the young transgender (TG) and Hijra is going untapped and unutilized owing to the high degree of multi-level stigma and discrimination against the community which is rampant in society. This is one of the reasons for the anger and frustration brewing within the young generation of the community who hardly have any other option than begging, singing badhais, and indulging in sex work. So it is very important to keep them in a healthy and positive atmosphere. I belong to an adivasi community where even the bride is forced by her own parents to drink liquor. But when I lived in a hostel all these conditioned attitudes vanished. Recently UNDP had conducted a month long leadership development program and within that period there was an unbelievable change in behavior patterns. If 30 days mentoring can do such wonders one can imagine the positive results we can achieve if we can have just one hostel for the young hijras where they can live and study for 3, 4 years. So my request is that the government should build hostels for young TGs and hijras as has been done for the tribal youth in every block of Chhattisgarh. This will not only give them educational opportunities but also have a profound effect on their social development. Presently the hijras have to live a life of shame and indignity as there is too much negativity in society. I know of a medical student who left his studies in between as he just could not bear the insults, taunts and jeers he had to face daily in the hostel where they had nicknamed him ‘chhakka mama’. Another 15 year old was raped 4 times but the family did not report the matter to police for fear of spoiling their so called reputation in society. Still another was forcibly married by his family which resulted in divorce within two months. There are innumerable such cases.
One can imagine the mental state of a person who has to face so many indignities in life from such a young age. It kills all the sensitivity of the person and hardens his attitude. So proper counseling at every stage is a must. As soon as this gender is discovered in a child, parents should become more caring and protective; schools should have trained personnel to counsel such children; there should be hostels for them where they can live and breathe freely. Discrimination can end by doing two things—they should be kept in a healthy atmosphere and secondly create awareness in society that there is also a third gender who have their own specific problems and their own life. It is criminal and cruel to try to make a boy or a girl out of them. Jawaharlal Nehru had once lamented that why is it treated to be a crime to be born a hijra. The community leaders will have to see that their ego does not come in the way of community empowerment.”
(The author is the Managing Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP and taught physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. She also authored a book on childhood TB (2012), co-authored a book (translated in three languages) "Voices from the field on childhood pneumonia" and a report on Hepatitis C and HIV treatment access issues in 2011. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: http://www.citizen