India has been struggling to create gender parity in many professions, but the ones that typically stand out the most in terms of a gap are the armed forces, as well as the police force. The latter has had several women, but not as many as there should be. However, in creating gender equality, the focus has been on the only two genders that were officially recognized for a long time – male and female.
As awareness and focus grows, about the rights of the third gender, a slow change has started taking place. Calling it a change might seem like over-optimism at this stage, but even so, shattering of preconceived biases to pursue one’s dream is in itself a huge achievement. If we add the element of a transgender person trying to do that, the significance of it becomes even larger.
25-year-old K Prithika Yashini’s story is not a regular one. It is a story of the fight against transgender discrimination, or lack of financially empowering jobs, due to bias. It is about the grit, commitment and ambition, all of which transcend gender.
When Yashini decided to join the Indian Police Force, her application was rejected because she belonged to the third gender, after a sex change operation to become a transwoman. There are already so many daily battles to wage when one belongs to a segment like that – battles with family members, with friends, with neighbours, with teachers and the authorities. To add to that, if you are educated and ambitious, and want to rise above the circumstances of your birth or the gender choices you have made for yourself, your only recourse is to try and fight a legal battle.
Most people would give up at that stage, change their choice of profession and settle for an alternative route. Choosing to be employed in another area is perfectly fine, if your own choice of profession does not work out. What makes this unacceptable is the disturbing fact that, for India’s transgender community the alternate route of employment ends up as them becoming beggars or sex workers. To Yashini, that was not acceptable. So she decided to reach out to the Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board examination and prepared herself to battle it out for as long as it took. Finally, the Madras High Court then passed a ruling that made her eligible to be selected as a sub-inspector of police – her biggest achievement as of date.
Growing up in rural India, without adequate family support on this aspect and lack of understanding, Yashini, then the son of a driver and a tailor, felt helpless. Her parents spent time taking her to temples and doctors. Her uncertainties about a better future for herself were deep-rooted. But her struggle with the system and her own self-belief, kept her determined to overcome these.
But as we celebrate this as a big win for the transgender community in India, the bigger and more complex battle lies ahead for Yashini – of receiving the support and respect of her colleagues. India’s first transgender college principal Manabi Bandopadhyay was forced to resign after 1 ½ years of service, a few months ago. In her statement, she has shared that it was extremely frustrating to work with some teachers and students, who were non-cooperative towards her. This stemmed from her being a transgender.
So, while it has been a momentous achievement for Yashini, the inherent gender biases that drive our workplace culture and simmer under the surface, will manifest itself in various ways. Fighting this will be the next big battle for Yashini. She has wittingly or otherwise, become a the only hope for many other transgenders in this country.
By Simran Oberoi
Simran Oberoi is an independent HR Consultant in Bangalore, with HR Advisory, Knowledge Development and Research expertise of over 13 years, in Rewards & Compensation, Diversity & Inclusion, Talent Development, HR & Social Media. She has worked with consulting firms like Hay Group, Aon Hewitt and PricewaterhouseCoopers in the past, in India as well as Asia-Pacific leadership roles. Simran is also a keen baker – you can find her recipes at https://ovenderfulhealthybaking.wordpress.com/