“Some men are born into their bodies. Others, have to fight for it.” – Unknown
On April 15, 2014, the Supreme Court of India recognized a third gender that is neither male nor female, and as a class entitled to reservation in education and jobs, stating “Recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue.”
For Ratikanta Pradhan, a native of the obscure Kanabagiri village in Odisha’s Kandhamal district, this ruling changed life in more ways than one. Now going by the name Aishwarya Rutuparna Pradhan, she has the distinction of being India’s first transgender civil servant. Presently, she is serving in Odisha Financial Services as a Commercial Tax Officer at Paradip Port Township.
Five years after clearing the civil services examinations as a male, in light of the Supreme Court ruling, Aishwarya not only forsook her identity as a male, but also filled an affidavit in court to change her gender from male to female. “In an affidavit filed in court, I have already become Aishwarya Rutuparna Pradhan. I have submitted relevant records for change and modification of my name and gender. I expect to be conferred transgender classification on government records very shortly,” added Pradhan.
It’s a sea change from just a generation ago. According to the American Psychological Association, transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. They usually choose cross-dressing, castration or sexual reassignment surgery to embrace their true sexual identities. India’s transgenders have been socially stigmatized for many years. Known as hijras or eunuchs, they traditionally have held the role of singing and dancing during celebrations, as well as blessing newly weds and new born babies. They were granted voting rights only in 1994, and had to cast their votes as either a male or a female until 2009, when the ‘other’ option on ballot forms was introduced. In spite of this, there are several success stories in our country, of transgenders reaching great heights.
1. Manabi Bandopadhyay: India’s first transwoman college principal
2. Padmini Prakash: India’s first transgender television anchor
3. Kamla Jaan: The first woman transgender mayor
4. Shabnam Mausi: India’s first eunuch to become an MLA
5. Kalki Subramaniam: India’s first transgender entrepreneur
6. Lakshmi: Transgender right activist
7. 6 Pack Band: India’s first transgender band
8. Riya Sarkar: The first transgender presiding officer of a polling booth
These achievements of transgender people in India, are applause worthy, considering the huge levels of social stigma these people face every day. It is time that such accomplishments are highlighted on public forums, not only to create awareness amongst different strata of society, but also to motivate and encourage other transgenders to come out in the open and achieve their potential.
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