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On the sidelines

Equal rights? MICA Ahmedabad is the latest institute in the country to invite transgender students to register as such. But that’s just the beginning, say experts. Sensitisation of students and staff is key.

education Updated: Oct 31, 2014 16:57 IST
Antara Sengupta
transgender students

When Farhin Bharde, 25, a transgender individual who identifies as female, finished school in 2009, she was eager to earn a degree. However, haunted by high school memories of ridicule, she decided against it. “My male classmates would make fun of my appearance and behaviour. My confidence dipped and I didn’t want to go to college,” says Bharde. As a result, she has never held down a steady job and continues to struggle to earn a living.

Across the country, institutes and universities are now attempting to help transgender students join the campus population. The latest such effort comes from Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad, which added the ‘third gender’ option for the community to its application form last week. This follows a landmark Supreme Court ruling, which gave the transgender community official recognition in April. Under this, all transgenders are to be considered under the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) category, and allowed admission to all educational institutes. After this ruling, the University Grants Commission notified all universities in August to offer students the ‘third gender’ option on application forms.

Currently, Delhi University and Bangalore University also offer this option, while other institutes such as Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi and Jadavpur University in West Bengal, are mulling over introducing changes in their next academic sessions. The University of Mumbai is yet to take a stance.

“I am yet to write to the university vice-chancellor to discuss various concessions and facilities required to sustain a transgender population on campus,” says Mridul Nile, director, Students’ Welfare Committee at the Mumbai university. “We should take decisions over the next couple of days, and might have the provision ready for next year’s applicants.”

Nagesh Rao, director of MICA, says that the student community was involved in this decision. “We have always encouraged diversity at our institute, and this is another step towards it,” Rao added. MICA will host four-hour orientation sessions for first-year students to initiate dialogue on class, religion and gender issues.

Short-sighted?

Experts and representatives of the transgender community point out that even six months after the SC ruling, not much change is visible on campuses.

“The UGC should enforce guidelines, without which this ruling will become ineffective, much like other such promises made to transgenders earlier,” says Abheena Aher, a transgender activist based in Delhi.

While select colleges offer students the third gender option, activists say that a holistic approach is missing. “Without a support mechanism to control violence on campus, how will the community have the confidence to enter such institutes,” says Aher.

Overall, the transgender (TG) community says the changes have not been thought out with a long-term perspective; the institutes, meanwhile, say there has been virtually no response to the changes that have been made. “There hasn’t been a single transgender enrolment in the four years since we added the third gender to our admission forms, so we haven’t felt the need to set up any counselling cells on campus yet,” says B Thimme Gowda, vice-chancellor of Bangalore University (BU).

Gowda added that there was one TG enrolment this year, which was eventually modified into a female enrolment. No enquiry was undertaken in the matter, he says.

The SC ruling says that the states must construct special public toilets and departments to look into their special medical issues. Institutes say that once they have enrolments, they will work on arranging for special facilities.

Frazer Mascarenhas, principal of St Xavier’s College, Fort, says: “We built two handicap-friendly toilets, which were lying unused until this year, when we have one such enrolment. Practically speaking, physical infrastructure should follow enrolments.”

The way Forward

According to Mascarenhas, the need of the hour is an attitude change towards the third gender among students, faculty and non-teaching staff at any institute.

At Delhi University (DU), which started offering the option this year, students say the process is disorganised. “We don’t have a gender-neutral grievance redressal cell on campus,” says Rafiul Alom Rahman, 22, a student of English literature and member of the Queer Collective, a joint body of students and teachers at Delhi University, who propagate queer rights and freedom. “Transgenders find it difficult to come out with their identity for fear of being ridiculed. We need active sensitisation through campaigns and workshops.”

“Colleges should conduct sessions with transgender students, to help them gain the confidence to enroll as such, and encourage all students to interact and educate each other,” says Harish Iyer, an equal-rights activist based in Mumbai. “It would help make the environment LGBTQ-friendly.”

Several colleges in Mumbai are prepared with a course of action, should the University of Mumbai announce a direction. “We will have expert counsellors inculcate the required maturity level in both teachers and students,” says Ashok Wadia, principal of Jai Hind College, Churchgate. “Once we have transgender students enrolled, we will institute a separate counselling cell for them too.”

At KC College, principal Manju Nichani says workshops for students would help sensitise them, and teach them to accept diversity. “Students form the college, so their role will be vital,” she says.

Mascarenhas of St Xavier’s says the institute actively engages in gender equalisation sessions on campus: “We have had hijras come to speak to the students about their problems and give students primary learning.”

Kaustav Banerjee, assistant professor at the Centre for Study of Discrimination and Exclusion, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) says that dealing with a community that comes from various levels of discrimination needs special attention . “Not only do we have to bridge this gap through counselling, we need to also amend the curriculum to suit their needs.”

What the supreme court ruling says

1.In April, the SC created the ‘third gender’ status for hijras and transgenders – giving this community right to admission in educational institutes and employment rights

2.The third gender is thus to be considered as part of the Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in terms of reservations

3. The Centre has been directed to formulate social welfare schemes and run a public awareness campaign to erase social stigma

4. The states have been directed to construct special infrastructure such as toilets

ExpertSpeak

“Education is the key to acceptance. Currently, there is no clear definition of transgender, so institutes are also confused. Colleges should have counselling cells on campus, but perhaps transgender students should choose which washroom they want to use, instead of building segregated ones.”

Siddhant More, 36, a recruitment consultant undergoing a sex-change procedure

“Our gender research studies show that the trans-community is averse to mingling with mainstream society, for fear of discrimination and violence. We need to work around this through awareness and sensitisation workshops, before we begin enrolling students in the third gender category.”

Nayreen Daruwalla, a clinical psychologist and a programme director at NGO SNEHA

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