When 30-year-old Suchitra Dey interviewed for teaching positions at schools, she hoped her double MA (in Geography and English) and BEd degrees would be enough for her employers. But, instead of asking about her qualifications, she was asked if her breasts are real or if she can give birth.
After undergoing sex-reassignment surgery (SRS) in 2017, Hiranmay Dey changed her name to Suchitra Dey. “My educational qualification or 10 years of experience didn’t matter to them. When they looked at me, all they could see was a man who had transformed into a woman. Nothing else mattered because if one belongs to the third gender in this country, ridicule is a way of life,” says Suchitra, in a telephone conversation with indianexpress.com.
In 2014, the Supreme Court had formally recognised transgenders, creating the “third gender” category for them. The apex court had declared that those belonging to the transgender community would be allowed admission in educational institutions. They could also seek jobs under the category.
“One of the interviewers at a well-known Kolkata school asked me to wear male outfits because all my mark sheets and certificates say that I am a man. In each of these interviews, I faced the worst kind of humiliation. The male principal of one of these schools asked me whether I can bear a child. He also asked me if my breasts are real. Would these questions be asked if I wasn’t a transgender woman?” Suchitra said.
Before the surgery, Suchitra started her teaching career at a school in Kolkata’s Thakurpukur area, where she still teaches. “Everyone there has always been extremely cooperative. The management was happy to let me rejoin after the surgery and I finally started leading my life as a woman. I currently teach students from classes V to X,” she said.
Exasperated with the way she was treated every time she got an interview call, she wrote to the West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC) on June 11. “I couldn’t handle the humiliation anymore. The things I have been asked by authorities at “reputed” schools of Kolkata shows the kind of mindset people still hold about our community. If someone like me, who is educated and experienced, has to face this then imagine the plight of those who don’t have the opportunity to go to school, or the ones who have been ostracised,” Suchitra said.
Nirmal Chandra Sarkar, assistant secretary of WBHRC, said, “All our petitions are placed before the commission, which passes an order. We can only implement the order. Later, if an inquiry is required, we will follow the necessary process and a letter will be sent back to the complainant about the course of action.”
While the transgender community has made inroads into mainstream professions, there are still cases of mistreatment that transpersons have to suffer. In February 2018, Shanavi Ponnusamy, a trans woman from Tamil Nadu, wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind, seeking mercy killing. After repeatedly applying to Air India, she alleged that the airline refused to give her a job because she belongs to the third gender.
Kolkata-based transgender activist and a member of the West Bengal Transgender Development Board, Ranjita Sinha, told indianexpress.com, “It seems like the Supreme Court order means nothing. We fought to attain the “third gender” status, but unless the government makes sure institutions are sensitised, the fight for respect will never end. Suchitra is not just one person from the community who has faced discrimination. Every single day, transpersons are subjected to such harassment or humiliation. Why is our community constantly denied our basic rights?”