Recently, the Indian Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) announced its decision to waive off tuition fees of transgender students, in a bid to make higher education more accessible to them. Since then, the university has reportedly received at least 100 applications fro transgender students – several for the Bachelor Preparatory Programme (BPP).
According to a report in The Indian Express, the BPP course is designed to help students who haven’t completed their 10+2 and want to do their graduation from IGNOU.
Among the transgender students, the IE spoke to three transgender students who have taken admission in various courses in IGNOU about their lives before this historic change in admission procedure and how they think their lives will change.
Riya was in Class X when her sexuality started becoming a problem for her family. Born as Rahul Sharma in Raghubir Nagar, her “feminine” mannerisms were fast becoming unacceptable for her father, a carpenter.
“My younger brother would tease me about the way I walked and my father tortured me a lot. When I completed Class XII, he threw me out of the house, calling me ‘Hijra’ and ‘chhakka’,” she said, according to the IE report.
She stayed at the office of Mitr Trust (NGO) for sometime in 2013. It was only after her father vandalised the office blaming them for making her a “Hijra”, she ran away to Mewat in Haryana to join a Hijra troupe for “toil badhai” – collecting money by giving blessings to newlyweds and newborns.
Despite running to Mewat, her interest in education led her to enroll for BA Programme from the School of Open Learning (SOL) in DU, but as a man.
Riya will now do MA in Gender and Development Studies. Speaking about the course, she said that studying gender is natural for her.
“Had it not been for the fee waiver (Rs 9,000) I couldn’t have studied. I don’t make enough and my father wouldn’t give me a rupee. I want to become a teacher at a government school or college, and sensitise children about gender issues,” she said, according to the Indian Express report.
Bebo, as she is known among friends, hasn’t told her parents about her sexuality yet. “My parents don’t know about my sexuality, although they have problems with my feminine behavior. I want to become a makeup artist, but they want me to be “manly” and join the Army. I can’t tell them, because I’m scared,” says Bebo.
Narrating about the experiences from childhood, Bebo said, “I studied in a government school, where not only students called me names, but even the teachers troubled me. They would ask me to explain homosexuality and everyone laughed. I had no friends.”
Similar things happened with her when she was doing her BA Programme from SOL, and frustrated, she stopped attending classes. After the IGNOU decision, she says, it has given her a new lease of life. She will study MA in Political Science and wants to further do MPhil and PhD.
Born as Nitesh Kumar in Janakpuri, Neetu works as a counsellor in Mitr Trust and has helped many parents, including her own, to accept and understand their child’s sexuality. But her journey hasn’t been easy — she had to leave her education and was put under house arrest.
“I had enrolled for BCom Programme in SOL, but during my second year, when I came out to my parents, they put me under house arrest,” she said. As time passed, her parents accepted her and even encouraged her to study. “When I got this opportunity from IGNOU, I grabbed it. I want to set an example for others from my community,” says Neetu.