The feminist movement in India has claimed many victories for itself, but on the path for equality, are they taking everyone along whom they ought to?
As someone assigned the male gender at birth, I’ve traveled a hard and uneven road. One that would have been a lot smoother had there been a better provision of information. Even today, derive information largely from Western experiences, despite India being a unique country with tragically unique experiences.
When such provisions and resources are sought in our country, is it easy to find them? Are there movements in our country, besides the queer movement, which champion this cause? The feminist movement is combating the patriarchal system, but are cis-gender women the only victims of patriarchy? When the idea is to prevent discrimination based on gender identity, is gender itself limited to the binary? Is feminism in India… inclusive enough?
To say that the queer movement alone bears the responsibility of advocating the rights of transgender persons would be a mistake, considering its limited reach and influence. Feminism has the capacity to accommodate less influential movements, and it’s true that some feminist organizations are putting in great efforts to do the same. However, by and large, in India, feminism doesn’t recognize the plight of some marginalized groups. When it can. And should.
Urmi Jadhav, a hijra who works as a research assistant at the Humsafar Trust, cites three main reasons. “To begin with, most feminists are themselves unaware of transgender rights. Secondly, among those who are, most are unwilling to join hands with us. Lastly, trans-individuals are highly invisible themselves, since most of us find it difficult to speak about our problems to others.” On whether feminism needs to be more inclusive, she opines: “It does. For when you are calling for equal rights, you should include everybody seeking it.”
Robin Chaurasiya, the founder of Kranti, an organization that empowers girls from Mumbai’s red-light areas, insists, “Feminism can be, and often is, a champion for transgender rights. Personally, I don’t think the movement is as inclusive as it could be. I think we should all work on being more open to other perspectives, and not think that only our view is the right one. The feminist movement actually faces issues similar to the queer movement. I hope to see this change, but the truth is that we are all individuals and, therefore, groups made of those individuals are still learning, changing, and evolving.”
What began as a movement to protect the rights of cis-gender women soon became a movement to sensitize the society that infringed those rights and then took in its capacity to protect whoever were victims of the patriarchal system. Today, feminism is essentially a fight against that system. In this fight, either we are all winners or all losers. When it has the capacity, the feminist movement must expand its wings to accommodate smaller movements that depend on it for their own causes, causes rooted in a patriarchal system.
Shruta Rawat, the research manager at the Humsafar Trust, opines, “Feminism is an ideology, and like any ideology, it addresses aspects which matter most to it and then takes those forward. Feminism nowhere suggests that it should not be inclusive of transgender rights – it only speaks of equal rights for everybody. So, policies meant to address problems such as domestic violence that cis-gender women face could and should be extended to transgender women.”
I recently read a piece, about how feminism is only a means to criticize a society that created male privilege and sexism, encouraged toxic masculinity, and failed to encourage values of consent. By that definition, what is the transgender community but one whose boundaries are infringed with blatant disrespect? One discouraged for not adhering to that toxic image of masculinity? One who is continually made the subject of sexist practices and denied opportunities?
Suicides and attempted suicides amongst transgender individuals are high as ever. Transgender men are so invisible that even downright monstrous crimes like ‘corrective rape’ go unnoticed. A shockingly large number of Indian families disown their children for not fitting into conventional “male” and “female” images. The confusion surrounding which public toilets to use- a most basic right– is a serious problem for transgender individuals. Many transgender women are forced into beggary and prostitution. When these women turn to law enforcement, many have been reported to be beaten and often raped by policemen, who seldom pay the price of their heinous crimes. So, one would think that it would be hard for someone who identifies as a feminist, to ignore such important issues. Especially, since the root cause of these issues is the same system that shames, defines, and suppresses cis-gender women.
There are feminists, however, who express dissent. Harish Iyer, who is an equal-rights activist, argues, “The feminist movement is definitely inclusive of transgender rights. Especially in big cities, it has always spoken about going beyond the binary. But I would want to see a more programmatic approach along with the stellar academic research work I have witnessed.” This is a viewpoint that Shruta supports. “It is not to say that transgender issues are not being discussed – they are – but these discussions must be beyond academic space. Those people in academic spaces and those in the grass-roots do not interact in this country, makes it very difficult to push the dialogue on trans issues.” Maybe, its solution lies in the problem itself. To bring about an interaction between the two spaces, and work closely to reach out to authorities and our public about what these issues are and how they must be addressed.
While strides have been made by queer feminist groups in India, the larger feminist movement is still required to be more vocal about transgender rights and come up with solutions to aid its cause. In light of a pluralistic future for India, it is essential that discussions involve members of all genders and all backgrounds. Kalki Subramaniam, an activist, author, and artist, remarks, “True feminism is about treating all genders equally. It cannot be a feminist movement if it doesn’t include transgender rights.” To ensure this victory, feminism has the utmost credentials – as well as the capability to become a movement that is inclusive and looks beyond the binary.