Suma M recoils with fear as she reminisces the horrors of her past life. Tortured by her family for being a transgender, she had fallen victim to the vicious world of the flesh trade, which in turn exposed her to three traumatic years of physical abuse and rape. Until she decided to fight back and start life afresh.
“I still don’t know what gave me the strength to fight back. It just happened when I could take it no more. But I am glad I managed to bail myself out of the purgatory of isolation, harassment and sex work,” says Suma, with tears in her eyes.
There these tears of pain she hauled for years or of joy of the realization that she wouldn’t have to look back at her past life ever? Suma could not decide. But fortunately, at the moment, there are more reasons for her to celebrate than mourn. The five years of struggle not only earned her a college seat but also a competitive job. Here is the story of how one of the first transgenders in Karnataka rose from the ashes of her past life.
‘Born a female in a male body,’ is how Suma, a resident of Bangalore describes herself. From an early age she made peace with the fact that she was a transgender, but the people around her refused to cope with it. To make life easier, she marked herself as a male in the admission form. But that was not enough to bring an end to her misery. “Even after scoring well, I was mocked by my batch-mates. Fearing the shame, I was never able to open my mouth to any question asked by my teacher. Ultimately, I had to quit before completing my degree,” Suma says, her voice choked with emotions.
Hoping to get some support, Suma sought the help of her parents. But to her utter shock, she was instead locked in a room for six months after confessing to them about her identity. “My parents thought I was going through a mental problem. They tried both psychiatric treatments and occult rituals to convince me that I was a ‘normal’ kid. Obviously nothing worked and I was beaten up and left to rot in my own house,” she recalls.
Whenever she attempted to convince her parents that she wasn’t sick and that being born a transgender was normal, Suma was denied her meals in return. “I had begun attempting suicide and was in a hopeless situation. The only option left was to escape from my bondage,” she says.
And one day she did escape to a Hamam, a community stay for transgenders in the city. But, little did she know that it was the beginning of another dark phase of her life. “I needed money to fend for myself and have a roof over my head. I was left with no other alternative than to throw myself into the flesh trade,” she says. “Rape, torture, broken bones and exploitation are not mere words for me, I experienced each one of them every single day for three years,” Suma says, recalling her worst days.
One night, she was dragged by her hair by a policeman for 500 meters, and this is when she knew she had had enough. “Even though I was humiliated, it was the perfect opportunity to walk out of that hell. With whatever money I had, I went through a sex reassignment operation to be recognised as a female and decided to look for a respectable job,” Suma says. No sooner, she landed a job as a programme associate at Equations, a tourism activism body in Bangalore.
Even as things were falling into place, there were a few hiccups. “I was denied admission to some reputed universities in Bangalore because the authorities did not know what to do with my gender details. I signed as a female but my previous documents still bore a male name. My story of having the sex reassignment surgery only fell on deaf years,” she says.
This incident left Suma hopeless until St Joseph College came to her rescue. That is where she got a “new life”. “With support from Akkai Padmashali, a transgender activist, I got a seat in the Journalism course in the college,” she says.
With the arrival of a new dawn in her life, Suma has a lot to smile about. “I am at a very good phase in my life and I want to make the most of the opportunities I have been given.” Her words are substantiated with the fact that she works till 5 pm at Equations and is right on time to attend her evening classes at 5. 30 pm at the college.
With zeal to change, Suma wants everyone to know that if she can bring herself out of the hell she was trapped in, anyone can. “With a change in attitude among people and a little courage from the transgender community, we can together fight this unnecessary aversion towards transgenders in society,” she hopes.
Now that Suma has completely moved on in life, she wants to become a journalist. When asked why she says, “There are, both, male and female journalists. No one has seen a transgender becoming successful in this field. I want to set an example. Moreover, I can tell the world that if given the right opportunities, we are as good as the other genders,” she adds.
The third gender
In a landmark judgment in 2014, the Supreme Court of India directed colleges and public offices to recognise transgenders as the ‘third gender’. The apex court’s judgement made it clear that members of the transgender community would not have to tick the option of male or female against the box on application forms to identify their gender
The Dark Phases:
Suma was locked in her room for six months after she came out to her parents about her sex.
Was left to go hungry for days whenever she attempted convincing them that it is normal to be a transgender.
Ran away from home to a Hamam after she could bear no more.
Worked as a sex worker to fend for herself. But, she was beaten-up and raped everyday for three consecutive years.
Punita Maheswari, Bangalore
23 November 2015