‘Accept us for who we are’: Transgender children deprived of normal school life
Gulshan was eight when she realised that the male gender assigned by birth did not fit. She would pick lipsticks from her mother’s cupboard and wear them in front of the bathroom mirror. In 2015, her father caught her in the act and thrashed her. Now 14, Gulshan (her name of choice) dropped out of school and is pursuing class 10 through distance learning.
She recalled an incident when a group of students locked her up in the bathroom of the all-boys government school that she attended till class 9. “They mocked me and said they will check if I am a girl or a boy. I lost my voice and couldn’t call out for help. Thankfully, some other boys intervened and rescued me. But that was the last time I used the bathroom in my school.”
The child of daily wage earners residing in northeast Delhi’s Seemapuri area, Gulshan’s experiences form part of the reality of many trans-identified children.
“Thousands of children are deprived of leading a normal school life because of non-inclusive campuses. The stigma and phobia attached to transgender people robbed these children of their childhood. It traumatises them to the extent that they just give up on their dreams,” said Anjan Joshi, from a non-government organisation (NGO) SPACE (Society for Peoples’ Awareness, Care and Empowerment).
SPACE is conducting workshops for principals, teachers and students in 35 government and private Delhi schools to make campuses “transgender friendly”.
In a survey of 900 transgender persons from Delhi and UP, conducted by the Kerala Development Society for the National Human Rights Commission, only 20% had completed their primary school education. While the literacy rate of Delhi and UP is 55.8% and 62.99%, respectively, the survey found that only 15% of transgender persons in Delhi and 10% in UP had completed their matriculation.
At school, Gulshan was advised by teachers to behave “normally”. “I was told that if I start speaking, walking and talking like boys, nothing will happen to me. I could not understand what was wrong with the way I am,” she said.
She did not receive any understanding at home, either. “I face abuse and humiliation from my parents every day. I hope that one day, they will treat me like their other children, who they say are ‘normal’,” Gulshan said.
Many transgender children like Sheila (her name of choice) are forced to leave their homes and find employment at a young age to support themselves.
The 15-year-old transgender girl, who dropped out of school on account of bullying, was disowned by her parents. “I was born in a boy’s body but I always felt like a girl. My parents disowned me at the age of 13 when I decided to leave regular schooling because of bullying. I was forced to join a ‘toli’ (a group from the hijra community who perform at ceremonies) in Turkman Gate. I ran away from there last year with the help of a friend and now I am working in a beauty parlour,” she said.
Sixteen-year-old Rahul, who was assigned the female gender at birth but identifies as a boy, stopped attending school after Class 7. “I hated wearing skirts in schools and would fight with my parents but no one understood me. I had gone through so much beating and abuse, both at home and at school, that I stopped studying. I live at home now.” Rahul (his name of choice) wants to undergo gender reaffirmation surgery. “I wish people could accept me like they do other children,” he said.
The lack of acceptance from peers and natal family leave transgender children traumatised for life, say experts. “The trauma they go through at a tender age severely affects their mental health. They feel unaccepted and unwanted throughout their lives. It becomes difficult to bring them back to mainstream education and professional lives. So, it’s important to let them have normal lives, both at homes and in educational institutions,” said Rajesh (single name), a professor at the Delhi University, who runs a transgender resource centre on the campus.
While the Delhi government has recently announced an intention to draft regulations to make schools transgender friendly, some private schools have taken steps to encourage transgender children. “We organise sensitisation programmes to make our campus welcoming to transgender students,” Amita Wattal, principal at Springdales School, said.
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