In 2013, when Daya Gayathri began undergraduate studies at the Maharaja’s College, one of Kerala’s illustrious institutions, she was grappling with a raging gender crisis within herself. Officially and on paper, she had identified as a man then, but she was aware that there were larger questions that she needed to address herself.
“Frankly, I didn’t know who I was. At the time, I had begun attempting to understand myself. You know, when a person goes through such circumstances when he/she fails to identify oneself, it’s very difficult to put it in words,” she said.
It took Daya sometime to figure out that she was a trans woman, an identity that came at the cost of a lot of harassment during her school and college years. There was pressure at home, adding to the stigma that society instinctively attaches to the transsexual community. At the end, she opted not to get a college degree that would identify herself as ‘male’, a tag she had dissociated with completely by then. She wanted to pursue her studies on her terms.
That dream came to fruition this year, when Daya, along with two others, secured admission at the Maharaja’s College in Kochi under the reservation quota for transpersons introduced by the Left Front government in the state. The state higher education department announced in July, based on a recommendation by the social justice department, that two additional seats in all courses run by universities and affiliated arts and science colleges will be kept aside for members of the community. It flagged the order saying, “Due to societal issues, these students often have to discontinue their studies or join academic institutions after an academic year or after the admission process is closed.”
The landmark government order came in response to a complaint filed by Daya, her friends Theertha Sarvika, a trans woman, and Praveen Nath, a trans man, to the State Transgender Justice Board and the District Transgender Cell. They pointed out their helplessness in securing admission to the college after they were edged out in the merit list. Sure enough, the strongly-worded complaint produced the right echoes at higher levels in the government which has been found wanting in recent months in improving the lives of the transgender community. In the first week of July, less than a month after the petition was registered by Daya and her friends, the government order tumbled out in huge relief for the community.
“Lack of education is among the biggest problems in our community. This move by the government will inspire a lot of people to study. I want that no trans person ever has to abandon their studies because of their gender. Everyone should study and move forward,” said Daya, sitting on one of the stone benches inside the Maharaja’s campus.
Daya, 23, is now pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Malayalam and likes to find herself on the literary and theatre space in the state. She is a part of the state’s first transgender theatre group and supplements her income by working as a model. In that aspect, she says she couldn’t be happier to be at Maharaja’s.
“This is a campus that encourages a lot of students to fund their education by working. It’s also a very liberal college that way. My batchmates and teachers have been more than supportive,” said the 23-year-old.
Theertha, 22, Daya’s fellow petitioner and her good friend, backs her on the choice of college, known as a strong citadel of Communist ideology. Located on the banks of the Vembanad Lake in the heart of the city, the idyllic campus is dotted with revolutionary slogans, scribbled in red ink on benches, walls and pillars, from the likes of Che Guevara to Rohith Vemula.
“Even if for a day, I have always wished to study here. It’s a huge luck that I finally could, that too under my own identity,” said Theertha, who’s pursuing a course in English literature.
The days of discrimination, when boys her age would accuse her of cheating them by posing as someone ‘fake’, are truly behind her. A bright future beckons, she adds, standing up and sauntering off towards her classroom.