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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

Apsara Reddy speaks on her journey as a transwoman, and why she is champion for more than one community

Reddy, a transwoman, has been as appointed as national general secretary of the Congress Party’s women’s wing

india Updated: Jan 19, 2019 11:40 IST
Dhamini Ratnam
Dhamini Ratnam
Hindustan Times
Apsara Reddy  was born into a conservative South Indian family.
Apsara Reddy was born into a conservative South Indian family.(G Venkatram)

On January 8, the Indian National Congress appointed Apsara Reddy as the national general secretary of its women’s wing, the All India Mahila Congress, headed by Member of Parliament Sushmita Dev.

Since then, the 35-year-old has had little sleep. Wednesday, in particular, was a long day for Reddy – by the time the Hindustan Times met her, she had already given 26 interviews. Curling up on a sofa, and sipping a cup of black coffee “to stay alert”, Reddy spoke on a range of issues, from her personal journey to the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) bill, 2018, to the abuse and harassment faced by women and transgender persons, and women’s unemployment.

“I was born into a conservative South Indian family. Dad was an alcoholic, and there were many issues at home. My mother was my greatest hero, and best friend,” says Reddy. “But, every incident in my life, even the hardships, really motivated me,” she adds.

Even so, getting her mother to acknowledge her gender identity involved a series of “very difficult conversations”. “I never really identified as gay, and knew very early on that I am a woman. I was very determined to convince (my family), and not run away from home, or tell them that you know nothing about me,” she adds. Her mother, says Reddy, came on board, but her father and other relatives, didn’t. “My mother and I were not economically independent, and the larger family was very judgemental towards my mother’s support for me. I remember once my relatives invited us for a wedding, and said, ‘don’t bring him’. By this time, I had already transitioned.”

Does she feel the burden of having to speak on transgender issues in particular, given that she is the “first transgender national general secretary” of All India Mahila Congress.

“I am glad you asked. Just because I belong to a particular community, I don’t want to be limited to being a champion of only that community. As a citizen of this country, every policy affects me, whether it is on infrastructure, health, or taxation. I want to be part of a larger discussion on policy that affects women and children and transgender individuals. This is also the only way that mainstreaming can happen,” she says.

In her new role, Reddy must reach out to women across demographics through workshops or conferences. This will include reaching out to transgender women’s groups too, she says.

“I’ve been given a mandate to identify women who think as leaders and to empower them. I will conduct locality-wise, district-wise, block-wise workshops with the Mahila Congress unit in each state – on public speaking, vocational training, and even the importance of voting – to show women how every decision of the government affects them.”

While political parties have begun to recognise the importance of women voters – in the recent Madhya Pradesh state assembly election, for example, the Bharatiya Janata Party released a separate manifesto for women, while the Congress manifesto had promises directed at women – they still need to confront the issue of representation. If there was adequate representation, chances are public policies and programmes would look different. Which is why, Reddy’s appointment in a national political party is important.

As a transwoman, Reddy is no stranger to the numerous hurdles in asserting one’s gender identity. She recounts meeting a counsellor at age 15, who told her that people like her are “stoned” to death. “She scared the living daylights out of me,” says Reddy. She also speaks about the abusive comments that her interviews on YouTube receive, which range from lies –“someone commented that he had seen me beg for money in a train”– to death and rape threats.

She narrates her ordeal to correct her gender identity on her passport, which was finally sorted out in the court. “I’ve had the most humiliating experiences in airports. Even after transitioning, I would be sent to the male line, (and the guard) would touch every part of my body while screening me,” she says. In a few hours, she will catch a flight back to Chennai, where she is based.

“There needs to greater sensitivity all round,” she says.

First Published: Jan 11, 2019 21:43 IST

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