Disclaimer: This is purely a work of fiction and has no relation to the lives of any living or deceased person(s). The following short story does not in any way intend to demean or offend any person(s) or group(s) of persons.
It was 10 p.m. on a clear night in February of 1957. Clear as day, I remember clutching my mother’s hand as we hustled through the bustle of a Mumbai local train station. Which one you ask? Well, I was only twelve, how could I remember? Around my neck I wore a heavy Chhola, consisting of any and all clothes Amma could find according to my newly developed feminine taste. Not long before I boarded a train Amma reassured me that I would be alright and that Lord Shiva would look after me. She left me on that train with strict instructions, “Be seated. Do not move until you meet Shilpa Ma, she's a tall and stately woman with an excellent taste in Sarees. She is as bold as her choice of shade in lipstick and as tasteful as her choice of eyeliners. Govind, you tell her that you need shelter. Your baba will never accept you, you don’t need to live under his daunting shadow. Govind is dead to me now and you will flourish as Gayatri under the loving shadow of Shilpa Ma.”
Before I could say much, the train left its station and I left my mother and my previous personality of a boy. I remember feeling lonely and still trapped, even though I was far away from the clutches of my orthodox father. I felt fear, I had no one by my side to hold my hand. At that point, I felt vulnerable. I hated being vulnerable.
Eventually, I did meet Shilpa Ma. But, she wasn’t as tall and stately as Amma described her to be. She was tired and lonely just like me, in a crowded train compartment amidst men of all sects of society. Rich men, poor men, short men and tall men, but only men. Every day she travelled in that eerie compartment where no one seemed like her own. They stared, laughed, mocked, cat-called and some even grabbed her from the back once every man had left the compartment. Shilpa Ma always wanted to dance and sing amongst women, appreciate their beauty and be appreciated. She dreamt of wearing Gajras; oh how wonderful they smell! But, all she got to smell was the air dampened by the sweat of working men.
That day Shilpa Ma took me to my new home, where I was to grow up, be taught and be ‘cured’ if need be. Somewhere on the outskirts of Mumbai, a small establishment by the name of Kamlaghar was made. Sixteen rooms each of 30 square metres, housing 3-4 transgenders like myself. Kamlaghar was a safe- haven from this cruel world. It was not contaminated by hate and judgment. Not only did it offer us safety, but also cut us off from the whole city. If our home was set ablaze, we were to put out the fire ourselves. If we fell ill, we were to scavenge for medicines ourselves as every doctor in the city offered neither medical treatment nor medication. It was indeed a sad life.
During my days in Kamlaghar, I wondered why I was an outcast. I was simply an individual whose
biological sex did not match that of her mind. It was a very personal choice and definitely not one which required social or political intervention. Initially, I spent several sleepless nights wondering what I ever did wrong. Is it me, my parents, the society or the law itself? Some nights, I would spiral in shame while others, I would feel cry myself to sleep because of how much I missed Amma.
Finally, I came to the conclusion that everyone is at fault. I, for not speaking up. My parents for not loving me enough to look at anything further than my sexual orientation; Society for setting unrealistic and orthodox ideals and lastly, the government for simply denying me basic fundamental rights such as the dire breach of Article 15, which states the ‘Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.’
In spite of such a well put together law, we were facing discrimination on the basis of our sex and sexual orientation. So many problems yet one solution: acceptance and respect. The bare minimum a human being can offer another human being on an individual level and then at a larger social scale: acknowledgement and respect, live and let live. So simple yet so complicated. Nevertheless, some days passed by slowly and with much agony, others fairly quicker with lesser agony. But, there was always agony in lieu of oppression by society.
Today, of course, times have changed. Sizable portions of our society have accepted us. Allyship and awareness are at their peaks and full form. However, there is yet work to be done. This is not the end of our fight for social justice. Two basic principles: acknowledgment and respect, live and let live. This is what the world needs from you to make it liveable for all. Liveable, not survivable.
Author: Vedant Vaswani
Editor: Charu Sabharwal