Three years ago, when the Supreme Court affirmed the fundamental rights of the people of the “third gender”, Sneha Sharma, 23, was at the court complex in Delhi, dancing in celebration. A year later, when the Delhi University decided to admit trans students in postgraduate and undergraduate courses, she lined up to get a form. “It was after the judgement that I decided to give education another chance,” she says.
In Ajmer, her hometown, she was a boy, Pawan, who completed his schooling and then dropped out of a course in Bachelor of Commerce in Jaipur. “The boys had noticed that I was different. The way I used to walk, sit and talk was very feminine. They used to make fun of me, so I stopped going and eventually failed,” she says. In Delhi, she joined the School of Open Learning(SOL) of DU in an undergraduate course. But in three months, she had decided to call it quits. The reasons were many, both financial and social.
“When basic needs become a luxury, higher education is a distant dream for a trans person,” she says. At the time, she was working for a community-building organisation, which had not paid her for 10 months. “I was in a lot of debt. I had paid the college fees using the borrowed money,” she says.
The academic environment in college also did not encourage her much. “Some students did not study, some teachers did not teach, and every time, I went for the class, I had to brave the glances and stares from people around,” she says.
Recently, the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) announced that it would waive fees for all transgender students. Despite attempts such as these, it is difficult for trans people to access higher education. “Many have been disowned by their family and so they do not have official documents and certificates on them. Some have a problem with registration due to the confusion with their names. Gender-neutral facilities like washrooms are not available on campus,” says Sneha, who is now a counsellor at a clinic run by HIV/AIDS Alliance India in Noida.
University spaces aren’t welcoming of transgender students, admits Dr Rajesh, a professor in the department of adult continuing education and extension, DU. He also believes that the enrolment is already declining. “No one wants to share the exact number of students as they are from a vulnerable community,” he says. There is a need for a platform where they can go for redressal, like the ST/SC cells in colleges, he says.
After quitting college, Sneha joined a traditional hijra community for two months, out of sheer helplessness. “The debt was rising and one can earn nearly Rs 3,000 a day while working with the toli,” she says. “It is a very exploitative system. The gurus do not want any governmental schemes to reach them as it will disrupt the status quo,” says Anjan Joshi, who runs Space, a Delhi-based NGO working with the transgender community.
While Sneha works in an office now, several other trans students are tentatively stepping into university spaces. “Everyone has to be sensitised about their rights. Change will not be seen in three years, it will, at least, take a decade,” says Dr Rajesh.