Disha Sheikh and Sonali Dalvi, transgender activists in their 30s, have been vocal about upholding the rights of their community for years. This year, their voices will be further amplified, as they have been given a political platform by the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi and the Congress. While Disha is the state spokesperson of the Aghadi, a coalition of smaller parties led by Prakash Ambedkar, Dalvi is the general secretary of the Congress’s Pune district unit.
On Friday, Dalvi issued a legal notice against the District Legal Services Authority, Faraskhana police station and Sassoon General Hospital over the administration’s plans to hold a medical camp in Budhwar Peth to ascertain who the ‘real transgenders’ are. She has also urged authorities to refrain from conducting the medical examination that would “violate their fundamental rights”.
“We are not trapped in wrong bodies… but we are trapped in a society that doesn’t understand us and we need to change that… my childhood was really difficult and it was painful for me to ‘come out’, as society made me realise that I am different. But why should the new generation be exposed to this discriminatory attitude,” asks Dalvi.
Last year, Dalvi was allegedly denied entry into a city mall due to her transgender status. She is a member of MIST Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) support group, started by Shyam Konnur four years ago. “Our community definitely needs representation,” says Konnur.
Dalvi and other activists had also opposed the Transgender Persons (Protection of rights) Bill, 2018, as it requires transgender persons to seek certification confirming their status from a district screening committee.
“This bill is in stark violation of our fundamental rights,” Dalvi protested and said she decided to join the Congress as the party had “liberal views regarding transgenders”. “The Congress has involved me in its district unit and I will work on women and child development issues,” says Dalvi.
Disha Sheikh, who describes herself as a ‘transgender, poet and activist’, hails from Shrirampur in Ahmednagar district. It was her fiery speeches at public rallies that impressed Prakash Ambedkar and his wife and social activist Anjali Maydeo, and they decided to get her on board the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi as its state spokesperson. Sheikh admits that her community has always lived in fear of being socially ostracised. “Being able to represent my community via this party gives me a sense of independence,’’ says Disha, who ran a bookstall for some years and is a keen follower of Ambedkar’s works.
“We wanted to give representation to the weaker communities and Disha’s voice is a strong one. The community listens to her,” adds Anjali Maydeo.
For Sarang Punekar, a transgender person studying gender issues at the Women’s Studies Centre at Savitribai Phule Pune University, being affiliated with a political party is not the immediate goal. “I want to work on the right to abortion for marginalised women and am open to a like-minded party that believes in secularism,” says Punekar.
Shama Mebha Bhanudas, who is also a follower of Ambedkar and hails from Faizpur in Jalgaon district, said while voices of the transgender community are being heard in urban areas, it continued to face acute discrimination in the rural pockets of north Maharashtra. “We have to raise our voice for social acceptance, which is our key demand,” Bhanudas adds.