My body my right
She is like any transgender who has lived life filled with ridicule and suffered discrimination and a continuous fight for rights and self-respect....
She is like any transgender who has lived life filled with ridicule and suffered discrimination and a continuous fight for rights and self-respect. Revathi’s autobiography jostles us away from our comfort zone as it reveals disturbing aspects of life as a hijra, yearning for love and identity
Revathi is a social worker working with Sangama, a Bangalore-based NGO that works for sexual minorities suffering oppression. She is a transgender who has gone through the entire cycle of understanding who she is, facing ridicule from family and society, yet standing up to her sexuality and eventually undergoing a sex change operation. She has lived within the closely-knit Hijra community, learnt their customs and has witnessed and experienced a lifestyle that is fraught with exploitation and discrimination. Today, as she stands up to her rights as a human being and in the process fights for the rights of other Hijras, she comes across as an ideal role model, not just for other transgenders, but also to other marginalized sections of Indian society.
“I am also born, like you were, to a mother and father. I also have emotions like love and desire. I just want to be able to wear the clothes that I like and live life that I like,” says Revathi, whose candid autobiography, ‘The Truth About Me: A Hijra Lifestory’ published by Penguin was recently translated into Telugu and published by Hyderabad Book Trust. “People who read the book,will get to see our lives from close quarters and gain a better understanding of what we are,” she says.
She was in Hyderabad during the launch of her Telugu book. Clad in cotton Kurta Pyjama, she was tirelessly answering the scribes, sometimes humouring them and at other times questioning them with intensity that unfailing ruffles the dormant human in us. “Why is it that the responsibility to make things better always thrust on us. You can be the mother of a hijra or a friend. It is for everyone to take up the issue and strive to change things for better. There are still people who refuse to talk to us, give work to us, allow us at schools and colleges. Nothing much has changed. There is ofcourse, the other side, the positive aspect - people who are ready to listen to our story and media, which is allowing us to speak.”
Revathi has penned her story in the most honest and straightforward manner and the Telugu translation ‘Nijam Cheputuna – Oka Hijra Aatma Katha’ was published by HBT. “The book became very popular. People, after reading the book told me how much better they understand Hijras. The book has been made into a play that has already been staged over 85 times. And in 35 of the shows I play myself,” she shares.
Speaking about discrimination of Hijras, she says, “We are consideredmuch lower than criminals. Money is important for us to live. We get a house on rent, not in decent areas, but in slums. And we always have to pay higher rent than others. We even pay a huge advance that is usually not returned while vacating the house. We pay more money even to get a blouse ironed. And we need to pay money to the local rowdy and even provide free sex. Who will give us work? There are only two kinds of work that we can do – One group that goes around giving blessings and good wishes (badhaayi) and the group that earns from sex work. Both the groups are usually at logger heads. Police and rowdy elements are other problems. Any murder or theft in the area and immediately the police starts harassing us.”
She further adds, “There are good and bad people in Hijras too. But unlike general people who are judged individually; if one Hijra does a mistake, the entire community is held responsible.”
In the capacity of a social worker, Revathi cousels other transgenders, speaks to them about their work and about various medical and health issues. She also works for Female to Male transgenders. “It is even worse for them as the parents refuse to acknowledge that their daughter is actually their son. Further, due to physiological differences that remain despite the sex change operation, they are at a risk of attack and rape and hence continue to remain confined.”
There is so much to change in terms of attitude and general behavior towards transgenders. And Revathi does not agree that NGOs are the solution. Eventhough she works for an NGO; she is wary of them, in general. “Government officials are too lazy to work at field level to get proper information and execute welfare schemes. So they take the help of NGOs to submit reports. Running an NGO has become a business of sorts. And many of them take the easiest way by giving preference to 10 people that they know. The government should take up TB or HIV AIDS related awareness programmes or education related programmes independently under the supervision of an IAS officer or collector,” she suggests.
“Education is a major issue. If the children had not taunted me and my parents would have supported me, I would have been able to complete my education and had a career for myself; instead I quit going to school. Is there a law to protect our rights to be able to wear what we want to and live the way we want to?” she asks probably for the umpteenth time and does not expect to be answered; atleast not any time soon.”