The transgender community voted for the first time in May 2019 Assembly elections. Andrea Noronha says they see it as a sign of hope for their future.
While a majority of us take for granted our franchise to vote, squandering away the opportunity to vote just because we don’t feel like it or we feel like our vote doesn’t matter, members of the Transgender community have struggled to be able to cast their vote as their identified gender for ages. They were shunned by the society and law.
Owing to their being ostracized by the society and even their own families, members of this community resorted to begging and other untoward means for sustenance. For years they were seen begging in trains, stores and on the roadside. One place that they were absent from, however, was the polling stations.
Having been denied basic human rights for ages, social and human rights activists fought for the acceptance and integration of members of the transgender community into mainstream society.
Vidya Dinker, a prominent social activist told Karnataka Today that the non-acceptance faced by them is so great that sometimes, even the people who profess to work for their rights do not fully accept them. “This is the sad reality. We know that there are very few job opportunities or opportunities to study open to them so, they are forced to fall back to begging or sex work,” she explained.
The State government, in 2017 cleared the State Policy for Transgenders, 2017 with an aim of bringing the community into the mainstream and safeguarding them from exploitation.
On May 12th 2018, many members of the transgender community exercised their franchise to vote as their identified gender for the very first time.
Dinker said that it was wonderful and that she was glad that the district administration of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada has shown the path for others to follow. “They had a training programme to show them how to vote. It’s a good thing that they took the lead especially since many of them were first-time voters. Inclusiveness is not just acceptance but, it is making them (transgender persons) feel like part of the community. This effort of the democracy to make them a part of it is a positive thing. 2018 is far too late for such a step but, at least we are here. There are many who have not had the confidence to come out of the closet. For those who are out of the closet, only a minuscule amount of them have got their ID cards and their voting rights this time. There is still a lot that needs to be done,” she expressed.
Seeing how this was a landmark event in Karnataka’s history, Karnataka Today spoke to some of the members of the transgender community to get their take on what they thought of this momentous occasion and what their hope for the future was.
For Sanjana, a transgender, being able to cast her vote as her identified gender for the first time, was a sign that she had finally been accepted by the society, the government and the law. For a long time, she had to face discrimination at the hands of the law, the society and sometimes, even members of her own community.
“For the first time in my life, I have voted from Dakshina Kannada. I have a voter identity card in my real name i.e. Sanjana. I am elated that I could be what I really am. It is a dream come true for me, as I was waiting to vote for a long time. I couldn’t register as a female before this,” Sanjana told NewsKarnataka.
Sanjana, like many other members of her community, has faced many hardships over her life as she began understanding her gender identity when she was in class 6.
“In the absence of support from anyone, people of our community resort to begging and other untoward professions. I have been persecuted by members of my own community. But, I don’t blame them because opportunities are scarce for us,” Sanjana told.
Sanjana hails from the Dandeli village of the Karwar district. Born a male, she was given the name Ganesh. Her father, a daily wage worker was an alcoholic and beat her for being effeminate. She was left to fend for herself, working in bars and restaurants for sustenance. After completing her 7th standard public examinations, Sanjana fled to Bengaluru to live out her own life.
In Bengaluru, Sanjana found out what life was truly like and this taught her many lessons. She felt rejected not just by the society, but also by the government and the law.
Sanjana managed to earn money and save enough to undergo a gender reassignment procedure. She then moved to Mangaluru, where she received help from transgender rights activists at Privathan Charitable Trust. They helped her to get trained as a beautician. She even got the chance to be the brand ambassador for a national level Lagori Tournament that was held in the Karavali Utsava grounds in January this year.
After being able to cast her vote withher identified gender for the very first time, Sanjana said, “I felt that I have a say in how the government is chosen, what the government does... It feels like I have my life back. I am so happy that, at least for a moment, I am able to forget the pain of the past. I am hopeful that the transgender community will develop and be accepted as part of the society. I have hope that the government will provide better opportunities for us like housing and infrastructure in the future.”
Even though India got freedom its long ago, Sanjana felt like she did not have the freedom to live her life as she wanted. “Nobody accepted us as their own.
When we voted, many people around us were shocked. I hope that people will change their mindset and accept us for the persons we are,” she expressed.
Priyanka, a popular radio jockey (RJ) with Radio Active and India’s first transgender RJ, who voted from the Chamarajpet constituency told Karnataka Today, “For the first time I feel like I’m a citizen of this country. We were wondering if we were citizens of this country or not. Now for the first time, we feel like ‘Yes... we are a part of this country.’ After this, I feel proud to be called a citizen of India.”
“We want equal opportunities for all the communities. There should not be any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, religion, community or other frivolous reasons in the future. I look forward to living in an equal society where everyone is respected for who they are.
“Right now we are one of the most deprived communities in the country. The representatives who we choose should ensure that the transgender community is able to live with dignity. There should be more initiatives to address the problems faced by the community such as infrastructure, education, employment, old age homes and access to health facilities for us to lead a normal life,” she said.
Priyanka also hopes that a law would be passed by the Centre to allow transgender people to get married legally.
Karnataka Today also spoke to Kajal, coastal Karnataka’s first transgender RJ who is presently working with Radio Sarang. She said, “I have been voting for a very long time as I consider it as my civic duty to the country.”
“It has been 6 years since I got my voter ID but to get that ID I had to face a lot of obstacles. After so many struggles I was fortunate enough to attain this right to vote as my identified gender. We struggled and toiled a lot to attain this right and I am happy that the struggle has borne fruit. The government should continue to support the community so that people like us can be accepted as normal citizens,” she added.
Another member of the community, 21-year-old Tulasi a resident of Hosabettu said, “I have voted earlier as a person of the gender that was assigned to me at birth. Voting as a transgender has really made me happy. I feel a sense of joy and pride for I am recognised for who I really am.” She opined that this was the first step towards bringing the transgender community into mainstream society.
Akkai Padmashali, a social activist who is also a member of the transgender community, who recently got married legally in a public ceremony posted on her Facebook wall saying: “Right to vote and I did it after 16 years!”.