On Saturday, 27th July, Sri Sivananda Balalaya (SSB) school, in Adavathur Palayam, Trichy, along with Shakthi Rotary, lay the foundation for a hostel dedicated to transgender students. ‘Siva-Shakthi’, the hostel being built, will cost over 30 Lakhs and will have a capacity of housing about 40 students. Major General NRK Babu, the CEO, and correspondent of the Swami Sivananda Vidhya Samiti, under which the school runs, decided to start this initiative after meeting Priya.
The inspiration behind ‘Siva-Shakthi’:
The reality of transgender children is, often being disowned by their friends and family, ending up on the streets, and resorting to begging or sex work as a means of survival. Such was the story of Priya, the school’s first transgender student who was abandoned and cast out into the street when she decided to come out to her family. At the age of 15, she had to drop out of school.
Priya found her support from the Tamil Nadu Transgender Association. When Gen Babu found out about her situation, he decided to help her by first, finding suitable accommodation, and then, enrolling her into the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) for completing her education. Being aware of her interest in Bharatnatyam, Babu helped her acquire training.
This incident made the school authorities realise the need and importance of a safe environment and education for such vulnerable children. Thus came about the decision to support this community by building a hostel facility dedicated to transgender/transsexual children. The foundation is laid, and the hostel will be functional by January 2020, tentatively. Bhanumathi, the school principal said,
“Puberty is an even more difficult time for transgender children because that is when their felt gender becomes clearer to them, even as their body changes. They may also be rejected by their families and drop out of schools. At this time of confusion and vulnerability is where we need to intervene. With these goals in mind, we decided to have a hostel to help children who are trying to figure out their gender identity,”
-As reported by The News Minute
The school follows a policy of ‘stress-free education’ with options of choosing from 3 education boards i.e. state, CBSE and NIOS. They do not conduct exams until class 4. Over 100 student with learning disabilities study at the school. They have an option to join regular classes if they have the ability to cope over time.
Gen Babu shared that the school staff has received adequate training, required to make transgender children feel welcome and included. He said,
“The school will take responsibility of their psychological, legal and medical counselling till they turn 18. It will mentally prepare them to face the world, and we will also send them to college so that they can pursue their higher studies.”
-As reported by Times of India
To work towards this initiative, the school is consulting with the founder of Bravo. This is a Chennai based NGO run by Olga Aaron, an activist, and a trans woman. In an interview with TNM, she said she hopes that this initiative provides a space for transgender teens to thrive. She recollected, that her family was supportive and accepted her. And this made it easier for her to face challenges in her youth. Her dream is to replicate her experience and provide a safe space for children at this school.
“For one, parents should also be counselled to accept their children. This is the first step to building inclusive spaces, and it’s difficult to do so without family’s support.”
-Olga Aaron in an interview with The News Minute
The school is also on a hunt for sponsors i.e. Those who could provide financial support for food and boarding to students who cannot afford it.
Transgender community in India:
Last year, NHRC conducted a study, to learn the ways transgender children get discriminated during childhood. The study said, “They suffer verbal and corporal abuses at the hands of their parents, siblings and other family members”. The study noted that a mere 2% of transgenders stayed with their family. Babu noted that when it comes to transgender youngsters, 3 to 5 of them ‘end up on the street’ daily. According to a census conducted in 2011, 4.9 lakh transgenders were there in India. Although, others estimate the number to be seven times as high.
Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, has always been a progressive state. It plays an active role in supporting transgender reform. It was the first state to grant a ‘third gender’ status. In 2008, the state also established a transgender welfare board for the community.
Read more: Mumbai’s Dedicated LGBTQ+ Health Clinic!
Source Credits: Times of India (TOI), The News Minute (TNM).