Today, Grace Banu holds a 'respectable' job as a consultant at a start-up in New Delhi. (Representational Image)
Chennai: For long, the transgender community has been perceived by the public as a quarrelsome lot indulging in crime and unlawful acts. Just last week, reports of eight trans persons being arrested for the murder of another transperson came to light. The police also reported that there was a leader for the gang in 'Kollywood style'.
The story of Grace Banu, the first engineering graduate from the transgender community in the state illustrates a case where a transgender realises her dream even when the entire society had turned against her.
Today, Grace Banu holds a 'respectable' job as a consultant at a start-up in New Delhi. Her journey to this status was not an easy one though. Hailing from a small town in Thoothukudi, where the idea of gender fluidity was little to not known, her struggle began even back in school.
"I faced a lot of oppression and discrimination in school when I came out. People whom I considered friends stopped talking to me and I was not allowed to interact with other students. I had to attend school from 9.00 am to 3.30 p.m. instead of the normal working hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. because the school did not want me to 'influence' other students. I was not even allowed inside the classrooms. I was made to sit under a tree and had to learn on my own. This was the biggest turning point in my life", she recalls.
The gender-based bullying and insensitivity got so severe that she was forced to drop out of school in the 11th grade. Undaunted by the setbacks, she joined a diploma course in Computer engineering at a private college in her hometown and passed out with honours (95 %). She was offered a job at a software firm in Chennai where she worked for three and a half years until she quit due to alleged discrimination.
At a time when transgenders were not allowed to study professional courses, she decided to challenge the rules and applied for a seat. After being rejected the first time, she applied once again and was allotted a seat at Sri Krishna college of engineering, Arakkonam, though she wished to go to a Chennai college. Fighting against all odds including financial setbacks, she graduated with first class in 2016 and now holds a job in New Delhi.
Grace Banu believes a reservation policy for transgenders in public employment and education would be the first step towards empowering the community. She filed a petition regarding this with the Madras high court on March 9, 2019. The state government filed a reply on June 14, 2014, and a hearing has been scheduled for July 14, 2019.
Speaking to Deccan Chronicle, Jayna Kothari, a senior advocate who advocates this case says," the Tamil Nadu government has included reservation for transgenders only in the MBC category currently. This would pit them against other candidates, who undoubtedly had to face lesser discrimination and oppression and have a better chance comparatively." She says a horizontal reservation in all categories would ensure a fair chance for the transgender community.
"Transgenders are people just like you and I. they are entitled to their rights", says Subha, a social activist.
Tamil Nadu has been a pioneer in recognising transgender rights and facilitating their advancement. But what the government and society have failed to do is incorporate proper mechanisms and programmes to counsel the public on gender-sensitivity. Though there is still a long way to go, the story of Grace Banu heralds the coming of the day where people of all genders are given an equal chance at life.