It is a very well known fact that education is important for the welfare of a democracy. As a society, we are branded under a gender marker and other distinct qualities. Anything that involves identity is important because that is how you are treated in society. Gender identity is crucial and nobody would know it better than India’s transgender community. Most people in India and around the world feel attuned to their sexual description. But when someone does not feel like they fit into the stereotypical socially constructed gender identities, it does not mean they do not stand the equal right dignity at school.
Recognising this, the government of India created a third gender category for transgenders in 2014. As per the recent census, there are around 4.9 lakh third gender population in the country.
Social discrimination and harassment are some issues this community faces on the daily. The right to education act RTE of 2019, approves the admission of them in schools and colleges. They are also eligible for 25% reservation under EWS(economically weak section) for admissions. With their existence being ridiculed at every time and the high levels of stigma, this marginalised community is lagging in human development indices. Acceptance is a daily battle for them and hence, they are uneducated and often excluded in social, economic, political activities. This kind of social exclusion affects their self-esteem in ways unimaginable. Census shows the low literacy rates of this community. Only 49% are literate which is less than the 79% literacy rate of the general population. The constitution has always treated this community as a third gender which is similar to an idea of a ladder-like social construct where transgenders are the lowest tier.
Parochial schools are not used to trans staff and students and that is why inclusion becomes a huge problem. The pressure to conform to gender norms is taxing and it might pose a higher difficulty of this community. Education still feels like a distant dream for many members of the third gender. Most schools are not inclusive and immune to have a trans student or staff and that adds to the dropping literacy rates. Even with the Transgender person protection act 2014, a large part of our society has turned a blind eye towards it.
The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) was started to universalise elementary education. In a recent development, trans students can be included under various scholarships and fellowships. Looking at the bright side of SSA, it is aimed to bring the dropping literacy rates up.
India’s first transgender school.
In a historic move, India’s first transgender school opened in Kochi. In association with the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), this school is truly one of its kind. Sahaj international school was inaugurated by the famous transgender activist Kalki Subramanium. This school provides a golden opportunity for the people who dropped out of school due to various reasons. They can continue learning and appear for X and XII examinations. Speaking about how important this initiative is, Kalki also mentioned about the huge win this is for gender justice.
Education brings the path to the beautiful life, because transgender people like me, we are abandoned by our families. Most of our biological parents don’t accept us and because of this reason, most of us are left on the street and forced to beg and do sex work. This has to change if we have to change the destiny of those people who were abandoned by their families and who had lost the opportunity to get educated,” Kalki said. This school is headed by six transgenders and a woman. It started with 10 students which also included a migrant and differently-abled student. Along with basic education, this institution will also focus on vocational training. Activites like organic farming, stitching, oration, soft skills are also to be taught. Sahaj international school is a residential school as well. To ensure a safe environment, even the teachers are transgenders. Establishing this institution has not been an easy task. Finding a venue proved to be the hardest as people refused to rent it. All of the first students of this school are from the state but, the founders expect students from beyond the state as well. This is a model institute whose success will determine its expansion across the nation. The school is now working out of a house provided by a Christian organization in the district. The school will be self-funded for the first three months after which they will be asking for government assistance.
The prejudice against this community has made it very difficult for the founders to find a place. They successfully braved all odds and have admitted their first ten students. Kalki also mentions that it a historic moment who is a transgender woman herself.
Progressive thoughts and ideas like this are the need of this nation. Education is the light that will guide transgenders out of the several dark years of oppression, discrimination and stigma. The future is inclusive and education for all irrespective of their gender identity does not seem to be a distant dream anymore.