Activist and celebrity transgender Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi was lucky to have found acceptance from her parents and yet feels the Supreme Court's landmark judgment recognising a "third gender" restored her dignity - and safeguarded that of future generations of the so-called hijra or eunuch community in India.
"It is a wonderful judgment and has brought back my dignity and safeguarded dignity of the future generations of the transgender community," Tripathi, an activist of international repute who works for the community through her campaign group Astitva,. told IANS. "But what matters is accepting your own children and not leaving them abandoned. Many parents feel the shame and struggle to accept their own children. This mindset has to go," she added.
Tripathi, who has participated in reality shows like "Bigg Boss" and "Sach Ka Saamna", recently celebrated the apex court judgment - that also mandated job reservations for the community that has a recorded history in the subcontinent from ancient times - along with other transgenders or transsexuals at the Jantar Mantar. She is also the first transgender to represent Asia-Pacific at the UN in 2008. The 35-year-old described the April 15 judgment as "wonderful", but pointed out that there is still a long way to go despite the fact that the apex court has ordered the government to provide quotas in jobs and education to transgenders, like other minority groups. "In India, the hijra community is often seen as a bad omen. If a mother sees a hijra, she would order her daughter inside the room. This fear comes from a mindset that we are vile," said Tripathi who was here to attend "The Shift Series" conference on the fearless journey of a woman.
"We too are human beings and should be treated like one. People need to go back to the scriptures and read how honoured the transgender community once was. This would make things better and easier for people to accept us unconditionally," she added.
Born in an orthodox Brahmin family in Thane in Maharashtra, Lakshmi was lucky to find support from her family, which encouraged her to take up dance and theatre, and chose not to disown her. An arts graduate from Mumbai's Mithibai College and with a post-graduate degree in Bharatnatyam, she was often ridiculed by people on the streets. Tripathi recollected how their nasty remarks never bothered her. "I was comfortable with myself; so what others said never bothered me. That was the time when I was a queen, an epitome of sexuality, and I had many boyfriends. All this while I found I was very feminine," she said.
She had started earning when young, and as she candidly admitted "she used to be the life of the Mumbai parties". It was a phase she completely enjoyed, but she never thought she would one day champion she cause of the transgender community. "I never saw myself as an activist. It just happened that I got involved in working towards the cause of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. There were many hijras who died on my lap in the hospital because they didn't get medical attention on time," she recollected.
Her journey began in 2002 when she became the founding board member of the Dai Welfare Society - an organisation that works for the well-being of transgenders. "This mattered to me. This discrimination and apathy were killing the basic core of humanity. It had to be addressed and I am happy to be a part of this movement," she added.