Independence Day is all about celebrating freedom - freedom to express oneself and to have access to one's basic rights, besides, of course discharging one's duties and responsibilities as a citizen. But not everyone in the society gets to do that. Seventy years after Independence, transgenders as a community continues to fight for their basic rights. Not only are they looked down upon by many in the society, they face discrimination and humiliation at every step. Though there has been significant improvement in their lifestyle over the years, there still remains a divide between them and the mainstream.
This Independence Day, My City Links caught up with Sadhana Mishra, one of the most popular faces in the transgender community in Odisha, who is currently also the social development officer at Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, to find out how 'Independence' continues to evade her and her community members even today.
What does independence mean to you?
For me, independence is to live in this society like any other normal person! It may seem that many things have improved for us today, but that is not the case. 70 years after Independence, we still have to fight for our rights every day. We consider ourselves as special creations of God but we are no different from others and so we too expect to lead a normal life in this society instead of being humiliated by the public.
So, how does the society treat you?
Till date, we have failed to get social acknowledgement because transgenders continue to face stigma in the society. So, we feel neglected everywhere. Even many of us have to face harsh behavior within our families. Despite the Supreme Court judgment that recognised the rights of transgender community, giving them third gender status, there are many occasions where we have no choice but to fight for our rights. Like if we want to pursue any academic course, there is no option for our community in the forms. The situation is no different when we want to apply for a job. Worse, we continue to be abused by many in the society but there is no platform for us where we can complain. So, basically, after a long struggling period, we have managed to get recognition only for a few things, like when it comes to obtaining a ration card or a voter identity card but the fight is still on for us for many of our basic needs.
According to you, what could bring ‘independence’ for transgenders in the true sense?
I would say that real independence for us would be the day when we will be considered a part of the society like men and women. Social inclusion on the part of the government and the society would make a lot of difference in our lives. There should be reservation for transgenders too to provide them more opportunities to prove themselves. For example,there are many schemes from the government for those who have a girl child. Similar initiatives should be taken up for us too so that we don’t get isolated by our family or society.
Do you think that one of the reasons why the society avoids transgenders is also because a lot of your community members are either into begging or prostitution?
Well, nobody gets into such professions by choice. Situations compel us to walk on these paths. We have limited opportunities and scope.That apart, many of us do not get support from our families and are not even allowed to stay at home! And, then the society does not support us either. So, left with no choice, many transgenders end up begging or getting into prostitution. But then, there are also many transgenders who are earning their livelihood by selling agarbattis, flowers and other such things. But even they face discrimination! So, I do not think that begging or prostitution can be cited as reasons for this neglect.
Like you, there are others in your community who have scripted great success stories. So, has that made a difference? After getting such a prestigious post, has your life become more smooth and stable?
No, I don’t think so. We as a community have to struggle at every stage of our life. If some of us have achieved something commendable in life, it has been possible only because of our strong determination. For such a social status, I have personally struggled a lot in my life. I still struggle to mingle with people and maintain a particular lifestyle and I know this will never end. But yes, the good thing is that since we are financially independent today, we are free to take our own decisions.
How far has the Supreme Court’s judgment helped you get your rights?
It may not have brought complete solution to our problems but it is a sign of the biggest change of the society's mindset towards the transgenders. It was a significant verdict for our community and it is the first step towards the recognition of our rights. After so many years of our struggle, it was the moment our victory. Within six months, a state welfare board for the transgender was also opened in Odisha which is a huge step.
You could become successful in your career by your own efforts. Tell us something about your journey.
Although I am successful as per career parameters, but I had to do lots of hard work to achieve what I wanted to. When I was about four or five, my parents realised that I am not a boy. Then my father and brother started guiding me how to behave like one. But I didn't feel comfortable acting like a boy and was attracted towards feminism and then my family began opposing me. But I could never compromise with my feelings. After my graduation I left home, and I had to face exploitation and violence. l was raped and beaten up but never gave up and continued my studies. Then, I got this prestigious job.