Monday, May 5, 2008

Tamil Nadu Shows the Way to Transgenders in India

Tamil Nadu Shows the Way to Transgenders in India
Syed Ali Mujtaba

"Ippadikku Rose" (Yours, Rose), the half-hour TV show on Star Vijay part of Star TV group owned by Rupert Murdock is drawing huge attention in Tamil Nadu. This is not because of its content but more due to its anchor Rose, who has become India's first transsexual celebrity to host a TV show.

The 28 years old anchor formerly known as Ramesh Venkatesan has masters in biomedical engineering from Louisiana Tech University, USA. He started wearing women's clothes full-time four years ago but still waiting for acceptance from the family and society at large. However, after hosting the show Rose has not only become a celebrity but also an unofficial ambassador for the transgenders in the country.

It’s the inspirational aspect of people like her that has moved the Tamil Nadu government to take the bold step to recognize transgenders as a separate gender for the first time in the country.

The Tamil Nadu government on the floor of the assembly announced to constitute a welfare board for the transgenders in the state and allocated $ 275, 000 for the year 2008-09. The welfare board that comprises of eight members is empowered to look into the various problems, difficulties and inconveniences faced by the transgenders and based on these inputs, formulate and execute welfare schemes for their betterment.

The government also announced to create a special database of transgenders that would help deal with their problems and demands. The database would be created by a non-governmental organization and would map the population of transgender in the state and find out their detailed demands such as ration cards, voter identity cards and health facilities etc.

The Tamil Nadu government has also issued a Government Order for the admission of transgenders into government run school and colleges. This is the first instance when a third gender category is created for giving admission to transgenders in government run institutions.

The government’s announcement was welcomed by to AJ Hariharan Founder Secretary, ICWO, a non-governmental organization. According to him transgendrs are in need of equality and security. They are being shunned by the society, suffer offences and crimes and are deprived of basic housing facilities. They are forced to take up unpleasant professions such as prostitution.

Hariharan, who is one of the members of the transgender welfare board, said the Tamil Nadu has taken a lead in the country in this direction and it high time the other states too follow suit and humanly look at their problems.

The transgender population in Tamil Nadu could be roughly about 60,000 but its only after a comprehensive database their actual figure would known. Hariharan said that once the data base is completed then it would be easier for the welfare board to look into their issues suggest the best way to resolve them.

The sorry state of transgender is not an age old phenomena. In ancient and medieval times they had some respect in the society. Recorded history says that transgenders were used as palace guards. They were entrusted with the responsibility to look after the security of the female chamber of the royal palace. However, with the advent of Victorian sense of morality imposed by the British rule the transgenders fell out of the mainstream in India. The Indian society now sees them as evil and immoral.

A peek at the Hindi movies would tell the tale of the status of transgenders in India. Mughl –e- Azam (1965) show them as palace guards during Emperor Akbar rule. Some movies based on ancient mythology portray them in positive roles. However, the recent films depict them as an object of ridicule to provide comic relief to the audience. In Kunwaara Baap (1974) the transgenders are seen in a song and dance sequence that tells the story of an abandoned child. In Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) they are part of the chorus singing. In Tamanna (1997) actor Paresh Rawal plays a positive role of Tiku hijra who raises a young orphan girl. Transgender are also seen in the films like ‘Water’ (2005) and Bride & Prejudice. The movie 'Shabnam Mausi' (2005) is about the life of a eunuch politician of the same name.

Most transsexuals are born male but see themselves as women. Those detected very early are discarded by the family and are picked up by the transsexuals who raise them as their own. It’s because of the social stigma attached to them that prohibits transgenders to get any conventional jobs. The most common sight is to see them clapping their hands and begging in streets, trains and buses. They may swoon on the house that has a new born and would go only after they take money from the parents of the child. Some even indulge into sex work and petty crimes.

The road for acceptance as a transgender for persons like Rose has been horrendous. In the hustling streets of Chennai she has been always stared at, and sometimes even abused. She remains isolated from college friends and neighbors to avoid rejection. Her middle-class parents threw her out from the house when she refused to agree for a suitable bride for her. She started working as an American-accent trainer in a call center, but her contract was not renewed when she started dressing as a woman.

However, Rose’s sheer determination and courage made her climb the ladders stardom. Her show ‘Yours Rose,’ that has a viewership of over 64 million is a hit programme. Rose's immense screen presence and confidence has added glamour to it. With great composer she discusses all those subjects that are considered to be brushed under the carpet. It’s her style of presentation to fight prejudice against the transgenders that moved the hearts of those walking in the corridors of power in Tamil Nadu and mooted the idea of their welfare.

However, in a country where the boundaries of sexual tolerance are shifting daily, there is much uncertainty in the line between acceptability and offense as far as the transgenders is concerned.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at