Written by Prajna Unikkumarath
Less than a year after the DYFI, the youth wing of the CPI(M), opened its doors to accommodate transgenders in Kerala, now the SFI, student outfit of the Left, has drafted a transgender into its district unit, a historic first for the 48-year-old outfit. Both these landmark developments have come about in Kerala, one of the few states in the country to have a progressive transgender policy.
Over a phone conversation with indianexpress.com, Nandana Vishnu, who is now a Thrissur district committee member of the SFI, opened up about her life, her present activities and her future aspirations. The native of Pullur Urakam, Irinjalakuda is set to join college in Thrissur to pursue a degree in Sociology this year. When asked if she has any preferential colleges, she chooses “Sree Kerala Varma College or the Government College in Kuttanellur because both these places would let me carry on with my party activities simultaneously.”
Nandana joined the SFI right after high school in 2015. Noted transgender activist and ‘Abhaasam’ actress Sheetal Shyam among others were the ones who supported and motivated her to join SFI for they felt her voice is a much-needed one in the society. Growing up, Nandana’s family consisted of her father, mother, a younger brother and two aunts who, she says, have been her pillars of support in her journey through the thick and thin. She says, “If it weren’t for the support and encouragement they provided me growing up, I would not have the voice that is now letting me speak for myself and my community.”
Asked about the significance of her role in the SFI district committee, Nandana is quick to clarify. “I have not felt like a trophy member at all. All members of the organization treat me like any other member, which is what I want. I do not want to be made to feel ‘special’ or ‘different’ because that would then undermine equality. I have been invited to all meetings and activities ever since joining. I will also be representing Thrissur district in the state-level SFI meeting this year.” In her opinion, her affiliation to the student body has enabled her active participation in decision making, unlike organisations where inclusivity and equality only exists superficially.
Through her role in SFI, she aspires to be a role model to all members of the transgender community. “By being active in party activities, I want to create opportunities for giving those of my community better access to healthcare and education. If I am to clutch on to my membership and be passive, it would be a waste of an incredible opportunity. Only if I make active efforts to let my voice be heard will I be a source of motivation to other transgender people. I want the fact that I am a district committee member to encourage them to step forth and join the public sphere and even politics!”
While her family provided unconditional support growing up, her neighbors and society, on the other hand, had not been very kind to her. She says she bore the most brunt at the hands of the villagers, who jeered and poked fun at her growing up. This has changed with time; after she was elected into the SFI Thrissur district committee, the same villagers congratulated her, and now talk of her with pride. The 23-year-old says, “I think knowing that the very people who made fun of me now congratulate me is proof of the increasingly progressive mindset of them here. They now recognize me, engage in conversations regularly and are now supportive of my activities. This was not the case before.” Nandana thinks that these changes could be the result of active efforts being made by both the government and organisations in integrating the trans-community into mainstream society. For example, in a decision lauded across the nation, Kochi Metro recruited members of the transgender community to staff the metro stations in a bid to empower them and provide them a source of steady employment.
So what are her political aspirations? “There is a lot to do for the people. As a role model, I want to be part of the mainstream society and be an inspiration to all transgender youth. I hope to be an active political worker. With the grace of God, I want to realise my dream of contesting in parliamentary elections in the future. I don’t know if people would vote for me; regardless, I want to make my presence felt through the activities undertaken by me and be a source of motivation for everyone in the transgender community.”