#1. India’s first Transgender judge
Joyita was abused, she suffered a lot of discrimination in her childhood for being a transgender, she had to force her way out of school and sleep at a bus stand and beg on the streets. All this happened to her and she didn’t go into a shell, usually cursing her fate. But today, Joyita Mondal is India’s first transgender judge.
Now 31, Joyita was born ‘Joyonto’ (as a boy) in Kolkata. As she was unable to conform to the gender norms that was imposed on her, she then dropped out of school after class X.
Recalling that period, in an interview with Women’s eNews, she said, “I didn’t tell my family that I was unable to take the verbal bullying by other boys in my school.
I just told my mother I had got a job in Dinajpur, a neighbouring district in the state, and wanted to go there. I told her that I would come back in two months if things didn’t work out, and she consented.”
Nonetheless, Joyita came to Islampur in Uttar Dinajpur district and never returned. In the starting couple of years, besides attending functions as a hijra, she strived to work for the rights of trans people. As days progressed, she started working for the rights of everyone who are facing any kind of social discrimination.
At the same time, she also managed to complete her studies through correspondence and also got herself a degree in law. In the year 2010, she was the first trans person from her district itself to get a voter ID.
Joyita started her organisation identified as Dinajpur Notun Alo Society a few years ago, that is now reaching out to thousands of people who are in need of desperate help, care and attention in her district.
Despite all the accomplishments she has achieved so far, she had to sleep at a bus stand as hotels did not allow her to take rooms, in what is a heartbreaking memory.
Almost a decade after she left her house in Kolkata, Joyita was roped in as the judge of a Lok Adalat (civil court).
Talking to The New Indian Express, she said, “All governments want to appoint one person from a weaker community to a top post so that voices of others of the community are muffled. I would not let that happen.
Even if two-three per cent of transgenders in Islampur get dignified jobs, I would consider my appointment beneficial for my community. They would not have to work as sex workers for Rs 150–200 and can have a good sleep at night. Even now, as I move around in air-conditioned cars, my people beg during the day and work as sex workers at night.”
#2. India’s first transgender lawyer
Sathyasri Sharmila scripted history by becoming India’s first transgender lawyer. Hailing from Tamil Nadu, Sharmila’s journey was so terrible and difficult to explain.
She was subject to immense torture and abuse because of her gender.
“I enrolled my name in the Bar Council Of Tamil Nadu And Puducherry and became the first transgender lawyer in India. I have struggled a lot in my life,” she told ANI.
“I wouldn’t have had to wait so many years if I had followed the gender binary columns in the form and enrolled under the female category. But I was determined to enroll only as a trans woman lawyer. Since I am a resident of Tamil Nadu, I went to the state Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to register.
They were shocked to hear that I wanted to enroll 11 years after graduating. However, they were very supportive. They told me that no other lawyer had ever approached them to include a category for transgender people and that I was the first. I am really happy that I have opened the doors for trans women and trans men lawyers to be known for who they are,” said the 36-year-old Sharmilla, currently working under the guidance of a high court judge.
“I am happy to see that I have inspired some members of the community to study law. I am hoping that I will be able to articulate their voices on a larger platform and change mindsets about our community,” she said.
“I faced problems since the time I and everyone around me became conscious that I was different. My family was harassed because I did not conform to the norms traditionally associated with the sex assigned to me at birth. Biologically born a male, I realized I wanted to be a woman when I was 12 years old. After learning more about the trans community, it became clear that, except for begging and sex work, most trans persons were not gainfully employed in any other professions. Then I knew that education would be my biggest weapon to tackle discrimination,” Sharmilla says.
After having completed her schooling in childhood, she then left home to do higher studies because she thought her family shouldn’t face difficulties because of her.
After graduating as a lawyer in the year 2007 from Salem Government College in Tamil Nadu, Sharmilla started working for the community. Over the next 10 years, she travelled across India to use her skills as a lawyer to educate the community about its rights.
“Having become the first person to get a passport under the third gender category, I know the process and documents required. I faced many obstacles despite being educated. But I don’t want the community to go through the same problems especially as the majority of them are uneducated,” Sharmilla says.
The 36-year-old Sharmila dreams about a society where people from her community can ply trade at higher positions across India.
#3. India’s first transgender driver
Rani Kiran scripted history by becoming India’s first five-star-rated cab driver for Uber, a multinational transport company. This indeed goes to show that our country is gradually changing.
Rani broke all barriers and refused to beg at railway stations and traffic signals.
She previously worked as an auto-rickshaw driver but faced a lack of trust and support from society. Later, she decided to volunteer as a driver for an ambulance during the Rath Yatra in Puri and then slowly, her life started to change.
“I started driving auto in 2016, but it didn’t work for me because people didn’t use my auto. But in 2017, I opted to drive an ambulance during the Ratha Yatra in Puri,” Rani told news agency ANI.
It has been learnt that Rani was introduced to the ‘world of cab driving’ for multinationals by an ex-Uber employee, who motivated her to join the firm as a partner driver.
She came through with flying colours by cracking an interview and then purchased her own car. Today, she is inspiring more people from her community to earn their own source of income with their heads held high.
“By seeing Rani ma’am, I have become her follower and want to become a driver myself. As you see people, especially girls, feel safe with us while they are travelling during late hours in comparison to male drivers who seem risky,” Snehashree Kinnar who is another member of the trans community in Odisha, told news agency ANI
#4. India’s first transgender activist
Gauri Sawant, a 37-year-old transgender activist is on an important mission to build a home for the children of sex workers. She is doing this on her own without other’s support as she is using her own land to build a home for these children.
She has a reasonable explanation as to why she is doing these things to help children out. “My eyes accidentally strayed towards a room, where a tiny baby was in the same room as that of a sex worker and a man. The child would have barely been three months old. On questioning the woman later, she asked me whether I would take the responsibility of the child and not let her become a ‘randi’ (sex worker)” Gauri explains.
“Instead of approaching others, I decided that I will build a home for these children. The thought helped me realize the aptness of the phrase, ‘charity begins at home,’” she says.
“Every individual associate the fondest memories of childhood days with being careless and free in their grandparents’ homes. That’s what I want these children to have,” Gauri adds.
Seeing Gauri’s great work, the state chief electoral officer has been roped in as an ‘election ambassador’ in charge of creating awareness among voters and maximize the voting percentage.
The chief electoral officer’s office has now recruited transgender activist Gauri Sawant (38) as one of its 12 state ambassadors ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Sawant is pleased as punch after her appointment and said that she is honoured to be appointed as the “one and only” transgender election ambassador in the country.
She cited that several women are also ignorant about their voting rights. “The voting day is (usually) a holiday and their husbands are at home, so they are busy cooking for them and do not go out to vote,” said Gauri Sawant.
“We will reach out to them and explain why it is important to vote and that many countries still do not give women the right to do so. If we cannot go to the border and fight, we should at least go to the election booth and vote,” she said.
Gauri Sawant was born and raised in a conservative family in Pune. After several years of difficulties, she launched her own NGO and also adopted a girl child in 2001. The child was left orphaned in 2001 after her mother’s death, a sex worker who died of HIV.
The baby’s grandmother decided to sell her to a dealer in Sonagachi in Kolkata and when Sawant learnt about it, she stepped forward to save the child by adopting her.
#5. India’s First Transgender To Be Awarded Padma Shri
Narthaki Nataraj who is a popular dancer from Tamil Nadu has become the first ever person from the transgender community to be conferred with one of the top civilian awards in India. The 54-year-old Bharatanatyam champion was among those honoured with Padma Shri, the third highest civilian award this year.
Hailing from the iconic temple town of Madurai, Nataraj learned the art under the astute teachings of Tanjore Shri K P Kittappa Pillai and also moved further to the Tanjore Quartet of Bharatanatyam (Nayaki Bhava tradition) through a dance school she established.
According to her website, Nataraj was subject to ‘social ridicule’ and ‘rejection’. However, her penchant for dance took her to Pillai who became her mentor. Nataraj, as a transgender, performed across the world. She is widely seen as an icon.
It should be noted that she made it to the school textbooks last year. It was indeed a proud moment! The Tamil Nadu School Education Department also introduced a lesson about Nataraj in the Tamil textbook for 11th standard students.
#6. India’s first transgender to get a Govt Job in Madhya Pradesh
Sanjana Singh, a transgender woman, has been recruited as the Personal Secretary (PS) to Krishna Gopal Tiwari, Director, Department of Social Justice and Disabled Welfare (DSJDW), Madhya Pradesh government.
As per the ANI report, Sanjana who actively takes part in all social events in the city has become the first transgender in the state to get a government job. In fact, she has set a great example for the transgender community.
The 36-year-old transgender was recruited on March 1 by Gopal Tiwari. She has also been appointed a ‘legal volunteer of the District Legal Authority’, and a member of the Lok Adalat, where she will hear the ‘pending cases’ with the judge.
Talking to ANI, Sanjana said: “Tiwari Ji has taken a good step. In the coming days, the people of our community will get better opportunities. If our community is given enough opportunities, we can do a lot for society.”
“This is a small change. In the future, there will be bigger changes,” she added while asking reservation for the transgender community in government jobs.
“If the reservation can be provided to others, then why not to us?” she asked, highlighting that there was a need to create and spread awareness in the society about transgenders.
“If the society does not accept us, we will not be able to break our barriers,” she concluded.
#7. India’s first transgender police sub-inspector
Meet K. Prithika Yashini- India’s first-ever transgender police sub-inspector. Hailing from Chennai, Prithika’s success didn’t come that easy. Defying all the odds and tough challenge in life, she received appointment orders as Sub-inspector of police from Chennai City Police Commissioner Smith Saran after going through a medical check-up.
The ambitious Prithika Yashini told PTI that her dream was to become an IPS officer. She stressed the fact that she would step forward to help transgenders like her get a quality education and employment. She said adding that she will take strict action against those who are involved in child abuse and sexual harassment. “I will take action against those involved in child abuse and sexual harassment,” she told.
She underwent training after being appointed and came through with flying colours of the Tamil Nadu Police Academy and became the first-ever transsexual to be selected for the position. In an interview with Indiatimes, she said, “Wherever I went for an interview, I was literally thrown out. I had almost stopped dreaming about leading my life on my terms.”
Let’s take a look at Prithika’s story. She was born and brought up as ‘Pradeep Kumar’, the son of a driver-tailor couple in Salem, Tamil Nadu. She suffered many problems in childhood and knowing this, her parents took her to doctors, astrologers, temples to sort out the woes. It was in Class 9, she started feeling different from normal and never felt like a boy naturally as she had gone through a gender change.
However, that didn’t stop her from completing her U.G in computer applications. She has always been determined in fighting for her rights and against the discrimination she faced. In 2011, she then ran away to Chennai, where she found some support in the transgender community of the city. She then started her career in Chennai plying her trade as a warden in a women’s hostel.
She made up her mind to apply for recruitment as a sub-inspector of police to the Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board (TNUSRB) to fill vacancies for 1087 posts. But, her application was turned down as being a trans woman as she did not belong to any of the two specified categories- male or female. In due course, she challenged the decision of the TNUSRB in several courts including the High Court of Madras.
Understanding her situation and going by the law, the High Court of Madras ordered to conduct a written test for her. The test for the recruitment contains written test, physical endurance test and a viva-voce. She successfully cracked all physical endurance tests barring the 100-meter dash by a whisker. However, she was declared successful in the physical endurance test.
As far as the judgement of the Madras High Court was concerned, orders were given to the Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board (TNUSRB) to recruit K Prithika Yashini as a sub-inspector of police as she is “cut out for the job”. The judgement then directed the TNUSRB to add transgender people as a “third category”, apart from the normal category of “male” and “female”.
Yashini along with 21 other trans women got the appointment orders from Chennai City Police Commissioner Smith Saran on April 2017. In an interview, Prithika Yashini told, “I’m excited. It’s a new beginning for the entire transgender community.” Yashini proudly took charge as sub-inspector in Dharmapuri district in Tamil Nadu on April 2, 2017, and is posted in the law and order wing.
#8. Miss Transqueen India
At the age of 26, Nitasha Biswas scripted history and made the whole world look at her. Yes, Nitasha’s life had a lot of thrills and chills. She went on to become the country’s first Miss Transqueen in Gurgaon, which changed her life completely.
After being done with her management studies, Nitasha, a former student of St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, shifted to Delhi to pursue fashion and modelling. Her life saw a massive turn when she took part in the event after seeing a post on social media.
Narrating on the pageant, she says, “It was an experience of a lifetime. I got to meet a lot of people from different regions sharing the same passion. We worked hard for about seven months to perfect our ramp walk, posture, diet management, etc. I will never forget the crowning moment. I went blank for a few seconds with the heaviness of the crown on my head. All the struggle that I went through flashed in front of my eyes.”
Nitasha’s journey has been a long one. She lost her mother at a young age, and it was her father who looked after her. She talks proudly of her family and says, “Initially it was tough for my father to accept that his son was going through a transformation. In fact, it impacted him so deeply that he stopped talking to me for almost seven months. That was perhaps the toughest part of my conversion – not having my family beside me.”
“I knew about my sexuality from a young age. But, as I came from a strict family background I couldn’t open up as early as I would have wanted to. Years later, I finally opened up to my brother. He thought it was just a phase. But soon, both my father and he realised that I was serious and my need for a transition was real. From then on, I had their support. They were always there in each of my phases of transition,” she says.
For Nitasha, the transition was not that easy as it took her around six years to accept herself with her new body. She also elaborated further about the Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) that one has to undergo and the physical and emotional pain that it takes on the body.
“During the transformation process, there is a phase when you have both male and female attributes, and it was impossible for me to even step out of my house during that period. It was a lonely journey. I was a source of a lot of ridicule,” she told Better India.
“Even though the medical transition takes about three years, the entire journey, including counselling, takes about six years. But it was all worth it. I knew that the transition would take time, so I completed my studies before jumping into it,” she says.
“Many transgenders go through a lot of emotional pain and severe depression. In fact, because of not getting mainstream jobs, they often have to resort to taking up sex work. This is what needs to desperately change,” she added.
It is not about the gender it’s about being human according to Nitasha. “Let’s learn to be humane. Gender is not something that is defined by what is in between your legs. Gender is just a notion in our minds. I was nurtured and brought up by my father who played both the gender roles – he was a mother and a father to me.”
She also said, “I am not asking for any rights from any of you. By doing that I will be automatically put you on a higher pedestal. The rights you have, I have too. Let’s just learn to open our hearts and accept.”
Nitasha talked about her future plans adding that she is interested to come into Bollywood as well. “I had worked as a stylist for Bengali movies and was interested in modelling. Now that I have won the coveted crown, I will continue my work in the field of modelling and eventually venture into Bollywood as well. Winning the crown got me to realise that this is not just a beauty pageant; I have become the torchbearer of my community,” she added.