By Uma Sudhir
The protests were quite loud and vocal. And no one was feeling apologetic about it.
“If they want to give legal rights, reservations and benefits to homosexuals, why don’t they nominate them to the legislative council or even to the Rajya Sabha , or even make one of them a minister, so they can take care of the interests of the group they represent, I don’t mind. Why include them in the minority welfare department that is meant for religious minorities? It was a meaningless and senseless decision.’’
Vehemently argued viewpoints put forth by leaders representing religious minority groups. They were more than sure that they did not want sexual minorities, technically called MSM, or men who have sex with men, to be clubbed in the minority welfare department.
The Andhra Pradesh government that had issued GO 565 in mid-November apparently buckled under the pressure and decided to withdraw its order. Minister for Minority affairs, Mohd Ahamadullah, was almost apologetic.
“Minority welfare is a religious department. Many groups represented to me. I told the chief minister and he has said that the GO will be cancelled. We made a mistake. They will be taken out.’’
Just a few days ago when I had met members of the community, commonly called transgenders and gays, there had been a sense of joy, achievement, even relief, at finally being given legal recognition. “For 18 years we struggled and finally they included us in the minority welfare department. I know that there are many people opposing this. But we are a sexual minority and to access services of the government, we should be recognized as a minority. We are happy and thankful the government has issued GO 565,’’ they had said.
When I spoke to community representatives with news that the government was reversing its own order, there was a lot of visible disappointment and anger. “We had thought of going to court on this. But were advised to lie low. Some people are saying throw them in the women and child welfare department. Why? How do we fit in there? We are a sexual minority and we should be recognized as such.’’
Many point to the example of Tamil Nadu where they have been recognized as a separate category and given reservation in educational institutions and jobs. A separate Aravani Welfare Board has been established to focus on their issues. “Even the Delhi government has proposed pensions for transgenders.’’
Experts point out that even where services in terms of health facilities, counseling etc have been made available, the community is not utilizing them. That’s because of self-stigma, guilt and fear of discrimination. “Change has to happen in attitudes of individuals, families, the community and then only a change in the outlook of the government will be effective,’’ says Krishna, president of Suraksha, president of a community-based organization.
To me, the bias and prejudice is more than visible within people like us. Like many of us, my memory of first exposure to transgenders as a child was that of fear. The stereotype: Crossdressers who were loud, aggressive and demanded money on the roads or during festivals and on happy occasions like a marriage or the birth of a child. They were no doubt thought to bring good luck (thanks to the belief that helped them earn some money to sustain themselves) but the impression was that they were different, odd.
Over the years, experience as a journalist and interactions with groups and individuals has moulded my impressions. They don’t seem all that different from the `normal’ people. I see so many of them living such sad, miserable lives, suffering needlessly, disowned by family. In fact, the only reason sometimes families concede the connection is because they are a source of financial support.
Meenakshi was thrown out of his house when they found out his sexual preferences. Years later, when his married brothers abandoned his parents and sisters, Meenakshi went back to support his family, get his sisters married and now lives with his widowed mother and younger sister in the Old City of Hyderabad.
Mayuri worked as a sex worker in Mumbai for 15 years to support his family in Vijayawada. But when he came home, the family didn’t want him to come home. They preferred that he stay in a hotel, where they came visiting and came to see him off at the station. “His money was welcome but not him,’’ says Mayuri’s friend.
“Are we also not human beings just like the others, with emotions and feelings? Then why the anger, the ridicule, the heckling, the intolerance?’’ Questions we need to ask ourselves.