It is a hot and humid summer day in Mumbai. The train is packed with people, dripping with sweat. Politeness is a long-forgotten term when on the Mumbai local train. An M.A. in Linguistics, Vidya, is pushed off the speeding train, by a mob of youngsters. She was begging for money. More than the injury sustained on falling from the train it is the insult that she remembers when a tear drops from her eye on recounting the tale on a TV channel. Facing the camera is ‘Living Smile’ Vidya- a successful transgender author.
It is comfortably assumed in the framework of our society that organisms are divided into two distinct gender forms ‘Male’ and ‘Female’. And the anatomical differences exhibited define the gender role an individual plays in the society, thereby determining the sex. Here one needs to understand that in certain individuals, esp. in humankind, there exists an incompatibility between the anatomically-expressed sex, assigned to him/her by the society, and the pronounced gender role, he/she wishes to express. In the currently prevalent dichotomy of sexes, there is no place for such an incompatibility. This non-accommodation, in an acknowledged structure, makes the common man feel that something is wrong ‘within’ a transgender woman’s (or man’s) mind. In India, this has not been the case always.
Existence of the Tritiya-prakriti, the third-sex as named in the Kama Sutra, was acknowledged but not approved as part of the mainstream. Manu describes the conception of the Napumsaka or a child of the third sex. The highly respected Hindu medical text, dating back to 600 B.C., Susruta’s Samhita, states that men who behave like women, or women who behave like men, are determined as such at the time of their conception in the womb. The celebrated Ardhanarishwar (an idol of Lord Shiva and his consort Goddess Parvati combined into one figure), is a classic example of the two gender roles existing in one body. Early Vedic teachings stressed on responsible family life and asceticism but it can also be safely told to have tolerated different types of sexualities and gender roles in the society. When did this acknowledgement of the existence of a third sex and peaceful co-existence turn into reproach and disgust? British Colonialism, brought with it Victorian values. As a colonial outlook took over in the country, it bred the notion that sexuality was essentially expressed solely for the purpose of reproduction and not due to the desire for pleasure, stemming from Christian philosophy. Thus ‘uncommon’ sexual activity and anything other than man or woman came to become ‘unnatural’. The enactment of Section 377 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code), drafted in 1860, by Lord Macaulay, criminalized same-sex or any such sexually ‘unnatural’ acts. This law eventually led to the development of repugnance towards alternative sexuality and the people who wish to express it. Pathetically, this also caused inexpression of the transsexual sexuality, for fear of censure and ridicule. Thus the transsexual, who wished to express the sexuality opposite to which he/she was born into, became abnormal in societal norms and undeserving of existence. Long after independence, irrespective of our liberal and accommodating ancestry, the colonial stains still stay in the fabric of our thinking. This issue of ill-treatment of transsexuals is which the writer in ‘Living Smile’ Vidya wishes to address.
The good news here is that we don’t have to develop a new ideology to preach we’ve to just enable our people to learn from our common history. To combat the slaughter of transsexual dignity and deprivation of equal rights to work, the prime reasons which force them to beg for money, the society has to decide to wake unto an understanding of how transsexuals are not so by choice, but by birth and various other contributing factors. The insensitivity towards Gender Dysphoria (urge to express as the opposite gender) on the part of the family and the society should be looked upon as injustice meted out to a transsexual. The drive towards sensitization should begin from the family. The government should further be able to put forth its stand emphatically and the ministers who have expressed angst over this ‘Western idea’ that corrupts the pure Indian society have to be educated about the ancient roots of sexual expression. The stark opposition to transexualism is of recent origin thereby easy to be wiped out. Extending from then until today is the practice of inviting transsexuals home to bless a new born infant or newly-wed couple. This practice originates from the epic Ramayana.
When Lord Rama leaves his kingdom to fourteen years of self-imposed exile into the Van (forest), the people of Ayodhya come to bid a tearful farewell. Lord Rama says, “Ayodhya ke sabhi nar aur nari apne gharo ko laut jaye”, meaning, ‘Men and women of Ayodhya, you may return to your homes.’ The epic then narrates that on his return, Lord Rama returns to the same spot to find that the eunuchs (or transsexuals) hadn’t left- homeless, bearing heat, cold, rain and thunder. Since He had inadvertently asked for the ‘men’ and ‘women’ of Ayodhya to leave, the eunuchs had stayed behind in blind devotion. Touched by this, Lord Rama rewards the Eunuchs with a boon that henceforth their blessings would be sought for on every auspicious occasion. The traditional respect accorded by the great epic to the transsexuals is limited to auspicious occasions today because we are fixated to the dichotomy of the sexes. Here, Let’s listen to what Rig veda says, “Vikruti Evam Prakriti” meaning, Perversity/Diversity is what nature is all about, or alternatively, what seems un-natural is also natural. Hope our leaders and we as a society learn from our own spiritual traditions.