Almost a month ago, the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) decided to waive off tuition fees of transgender students, in an attempt to make higher education more accessible to them. Since then, the university has received at least 100 applications from transgender students — several for the Bachelor Preparatory Programme (BPP). The course is designed to help students who haven’t completed their 10+2 and want to do their graduation from IGNOU. The Indian Express spoke to three transgender students who have taken admission in various courses in IGNOU about their lives before this historic change in admission procedure and how they think their lives will change.
RIYA SHARMA (23)
Course: MA in Gender and Development Studies
Riya was in Class X when her sexuality started becoming a problem for her family. Born as Rahul Sharma in Raghubir Nagar, her “feminine” mannerisms were fast becoming unacceptable for her father, a carpenter.
“My younger brother would tease me about the way I walked and my father tortured me a lot. When I completed Class XII, he threw me out of the house, calling me ‘Hijra’ and ‘chhakka’,” she says.
For a brief period, she stayed at the office of Mitr Trust — an NGO she’s still working with but when, in 2013, her father vandalised the office blaming them for making her a “Hijra”, she ran away to Mewat in Haryana to join a Hijra troupe for “toil badhai” – collecting money by giving blessings to newlyweds and newborns. However, her interest in education led her to enroll for BA Programme from the School of Open Learning (SOL) in DU, but as a man.
Studying about Gender, says Riya, is natural for her. “Had it not been for the fee waiver (Rs 9,000) I couldn’t have studied. I don’t make enough and my father wouldn’t give me a rupee. I want to become a teacher at a government school or college, and sensitise children about gender issues,” she says.
Course: MA, Political Science
Bebo, as she is known among friends, has not told her parents about her sexuality yet. “My parents don’t know about my sexuality, although they have problems with my feminine behavior. I want to become a makeup artist, but they want me to be “manly” and join the Army. I can’t tell them, because I’m scared,” says the Kareena Kapoor fan from Rohini. At home, she dresses in ‘men’s’ clothes, and even refrains from watching soaps on TV for fear of being tagged ‘gay’. But with her friends around, she feels comfortable and dresses in women’s clothes, dances and celebrates her real self.
“I studied in a government school, where not only students called me names, but even the teachers troubled me. They would ask me to explain homosexuality and everyone laughed. I had no friends,” she says. Similar experiences plagued her when she was doing her BA Programme from SOL, and frustrated, she stopped attending classes. She also worked at a call centre for Bikano, but regular taunts forced her to quit. IGNOU, she says, has given her a new lease of life. “I want to be a makeup artist, but I think it’s very important to be educated. I’m interested in doing an MPhil and PhD after this. The fee waiver really helps. I hope my identity card doesn’t mention my gender,” says Bebo.
Course: BA, Tourism Studies
Born as Nitesh Kumar in Janakpuri to parents who are government servants, Neetu works as a counsellor in Mitr Trust and has helped many parents, including her own, to accept and understand their child’s sexuality. But the road has not been easy — she had to leave her education and was put under house arrest. “I was in a co-ed private school till Class V but my father thought my ‘girly’ mannerisms were because I was hanging out with girls, so they shifted me to a government school. It was hell. “I had enrolled for BCom Programme in SOL, but during my second year, when I came out to my parents, they put me under house arrest,” she says. As time passed, her parents accepted her and even encouraged her to study. “When I got this opportunity from IGNOU, I grabbed it. I want to set an example for others from my community; I want them to know it’s important to be educated,” says Neetu.