'We Will Not Live in Fear'
Trans people tell cisgenders in J&K
When Arnavi Kumari understood herself as trans, she was only nine years old. Every family member shunned or neglected her, except her mother. Instead of adopting or encouraging her, she was boycotted, ignored, and a separate room was given to her.
This social boycott from family left her in shock.
"It's not my fault, I am transgender by birth. What can I do now?" she asks.
Now 26, she studies fine arts at Jammu University and also works for the LGBTQ community in the area, promoting their rights.
"Whenever we demand for our rights, we have been facing violence from the authorities. No one cares about our rights," she recalls, the Pride march organised by a climate NGO in Jammu this summer.
"When I took admission in Jammu college, everyone called me Mamu aya, Hijda aya, slurs and slang words were used against me. I continued my journey with grit and determination. I studied with other genders in the fine arts college. And a proud moment for me is that I did top in my batch," says Arnavi.
Her source of earning comes from her painting. "During my entire academic career, I didn't receive any scholarship from the government, nor did my family provide me any financial assistance. I managed it all on my own. In my family, only my mother talks to me. Rest, I'm being ignored. My crime is I am a transgender."
She says families reject trans people out of concern that they will be mocked by society, and society mocks them because their families rejected them. No matter how trans people want to present themselves, they are a minority population, but they have still no legal protections.
"It won't be clear to people in J&K how common they are until their rights are safeguarded. People in Jammu and Kashmir do not support transgender people mostly because they view them as odd and ultimately outcasts," says Kumari.
"The general assumption in society is they are only good for singing and dancing or for matchmaking. They are forced to stop studying through bullying and a harsh environment, disqualifying them from white collar occupations. I have faced this personally."
According to Kumari, the trans community has been engaged in conflict for a very long time. "The government have done nothing to change these miserable conditions."
The 2011 Census found only 4,137 people of a third gender living in Jammu and Kashmir. Here trans people are traditionally associated with the occupation of manzimyo'ar (matchmakers) or wedding ceremony entertainers.
The erasure by cisgender people isn't limited to the census. "Earlier, we didn't see 'third gender' in admission forms. So that was the first rejection of transgenders to make their entry in colleges. How can one submit their form when there is no option for third gender?" asks Arnavi.
According to Ravi Kumar, 26, a student of law at the same university, in the judgment recognising a third gender, "the Indian government was further ordered by the Supreme Court to treat third gender people as a socially and economically backward class."
"The Supreme Court directed the government to create public awareness regarding LGBT rights and to eliminate the stigma surrounding LGBT people. The court elaborated upon the issues surrounding mental health, dignity, privacy, and right to self-determination of transgenders," he adds.
But although there are hundreds who have good qualifications, they cannot apply for public jobs, as the government has not framed any job policy for transgender people in J&K.
"If the government is ready to frame a job policy, we have the potential to transform the society. I am earning from my own pocket. We should generate employment for trans members as well," says Arnavi.
She says she joined the Aam Aadmi Party six months ago with the aim of improving the conditions of trans people in the area.
"Within no time, I felt demoralized being part of politics, as there should be social acceptability in society. Once you will be respected, everything will be ok," she tells The Citizen.