Now in Kochi – First Transgender School of India!

Mercedes Ruehl famously said once “Nature chooses who will be transgender; individuals don’t choose them”.

Finally, some good news for Indian transgenders- Sahaj International School in Kochi will be the first residential transgender school in the country! On 30th December 2016, the school was inaugurated by transgender rights activist and artist Kalki Subramaniam.  The school will initially accommodate 10 transgenders, who will study under the National Open School system, and will be led by six transgenders working with the TransIndia Foundation. The students have been selected from different sections of the transgender community itself, which includes a disabled person and a migrant. “In the beginning, we have a few sponsors supporting us. We are planning to seek financial help from government after proving its worthiness,” said Vijayaraja Mallika, who mooted this idea. Vijayaraja Mallika, Maya Menon and Faisal CK are three activists who have worked hard to formulate and implement this idea.

The school will provide education and examination equivalent to Class X and XII, the activists said. “The aim of transgender school is to provide transgenders security, salvation and sustainability,” Vijayaraja Mallika added.

There will be a pool of teachers and social workers who have volunteered to take classes for the students. Other skill development programmes will also be included in the curriculum. The idea of the school was proposed to instill the belief that education was important and this initiative will ensure that even school drop-outs can resume their studies. Lauding the organisers, district collector Muhammad Y. Safeerulla said such initiatives will help end discrimination and ensure gender justice. He said the administration will extend all support for the welfare of the transgenders.

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
9. Aishwarya Pradhan: India’s first transgender civil servant.

Despite still criminalizing homosexuality, India has started to take baby steps towards the betterment of transgenders. On 20th July 2016, the Union Cabinet of the BJP government approved ‘The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016’. It is a landmark decision which has laid the foundation of an inclusive society. The real task of creating an inclusive society in spirit and action starts thence. The new law gives a welfare highway for development of the third gendered population in India by recognizing them as ‘Other Backward Classes’ (OBC). It ensures that transgenders are given special care to emerge from their historical socio-cultural and economic deprivation in order to live up to their optimum potential as human beings. Upon being identified as OBCs, the transgenders shall have the Indian Government’s support for social welfare schemes, public awareness campaigns and special public infrastructure shall be created for them.

In this regard, we are really happy that transgenders are getting their due in a small way, in the education sphere. Formal education is one of the greatest factors of personality development, and establishes the foundation of a successful and stable career later on in life. Additionally, we have our own campaign entitled #AllGenders, where we focus on the key notion that only when all genders come together, can gender sensitivity be achieved. We have succesfully conducted a Tweetchat on this issue as well. Thus, we are ecstatic with the establishment of Sahaj International School, and wish to see it grow leaps and bounds. We also hope and pray that many more such educational institutions are set up across the nation, to make education more accessible for transgenders.

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