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No ‘safe zone’ for transgenders on Pune campuses, still

One of the only two transgenders studying in the city, Sarang Punekar, shares her experience

pune Updated: Aug 31, 2018 14:37 IST
Ananya Barua
Ananya Barua
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,safe zone,transgenders
Sarang Punekar, the transgender student of SPPU, says the women’s studies department has an inclusive environment. Here, she is seen outside the main building on Thursday. (Sanket Wankhade/ HT PHOTO )

For 24-year-old post graduate student of Savitribai Phule Pune University, going alone to the college canteen, is often an unpleasant experience.

“If I am sitting at a table all by myself, no one comes to sit beside me, even if all the other tables are full and people don’t have space to sit. No one except my friends from the department,” said Sarang Punekar,one of the very few transgender students, who is doing a postgraduate course in Gender studies atSavitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU).

One of the only two transgenders undertaking courses in the city institutions, Sarang’s journey to her masters, was not easy.

Sarang graduated from Shri Shahu Mandir Mahavidyalaya, Sahakarnagar with a bachelors of business administration (BBA) finance degree.

She shared several painful instances of being ridiculed and ostracized for who she was.

“At that time, I had not undergone the physical transformation and the third gender was still not being recognised. So I enrolled as a male. However, I was often the centre of ridicule. Those years were difficult, but I sailed through as I was good at academics. Later in 2015, I underwent a surgery,” said Sarang.The lack of empathy and awareness among people, pushed Sarang to delve into gender studies.“The women’s studies department at the university is a completely different zone. A safe zone. While the environment here is very inclusive and non-judgmental, I can’t say the same about the rest of the campus. Anywhere I go, the penetrating stare follows.”

Many experts in the field of gender studies said that authorities from institutions were not doing enough to create an inclusive atmosphere, often making the progressive provisions like having the third gender box on application forms for college admissions, ineffective.

Disha Shaikh, transgender activist and poet, said,“Change cannot happen in a day but the colleges need to step up and organise awareness programmes and delve more into gender issues, not just for the arts departments but for all. It is a social reality which every person should be aware of , especially in an education organisation. Most colleges have the third gender box, don’t really have gender neutral toilets for transgenders. Sensitivity needs to trickle down from the top rungs of the organisations,”

According to Bindumadhav Khire, LGBTQ activist, due to lack of awareness, not just transgenders, but any individual not conforming to the gender identities set by the society, are stigmatised. Khire has been organising the Pune pride and several other events for LGBTQ individuals to socialise and interact about their issues.“Institutes need to have special counselling cells where the counsellors are aware about gender. These students otherwise don’t feel safe to discuss about their issues.”

Addressing these issues, all campuses of Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey (SNDT) Women's University, in Pune and Mumbai will be now admitting transwomen candidates for thedistance learning course. “More awareness programmes and other infrastructural changes like toilets for them, have been proposed by the university,” said Pune Campus head, Sachin Deore.

Queer Katta

A city which hosts the Pune queer pride parade every year, continues to hush talks around gender issues. And, in order to change that, Bindumadhav Khire , founder, Samapathik trust had introduced a monthly meeting of the LGBTQ community, since January 2018, at various public spots.

From canteens, cafes, to parks, each month, members of the community assemble for the informal meeting called, queer katta, to communicate and share their ideas, life experiences, stories with each other. The informal platform, for the past 8 months has been seeing students and professionals meet and greet, to talk about various issues, including their personal hurdles.

“Many of the people here are students, who either are out or need more help and courage to come out. This becomes their safe zone to seek expert help from the people of their own community and gives them a sense of belonging.However, we have never been able to organise such an event on college campuses, because many students are scared to be identified as LGBT in their campuses due to the overwhelming stigma still persisting in parts,” said Khire. A successful feat, which has a turnout of 10 to 15 people each month, will be continued for the next 6 months, he added.

First Published: Aug 31, 2018 14:37 IST