Over two decades ago, Dhananjay Chauhan had to give up on studies. Not because she didn’t want to pursue or wasn’t able to deal with the syllabus, but because a group of students from the university had made her life a living hell. A bright student and one of the toppers, she helplessly saw her dreams and ambitions crumble.
However, Dhananjay did not bury her head in the sand. Rather, she took it up as a challenge and empowered herself spectacularly. Today, at 40, she is back at the same university with respect and dignity, and is a leading voice of the transgender community in Punjab and Haryana. “Gender is not merely between two legs. It is connected to our soul and psyche. Awareness about gender and sexuality is the need of the hour,” she underlines in a telephonic interview with FSoG.
A thorny student life
Growing up with gender dysphoria wasn’t easy for Dhananjay. At school, she wasn’t allowed to use the female washroom, while in the male washroom she was regularly subjected to nasty pranks and taunts. “It was very disturbing. They would tease me, pull my pants and call me names,” she shares. “This once they locked me up in the washroom. In those days, washrooms were away from the main school building. I kept crying and banging on the door, but could only be rescued an hour later,” she reminisces and adds that she stopped using the washroom during breaks thereafter.
At the university, problems only elevated. Tired of the everyday harassment, she dropped out of her law course in 1993. She enrolled herself in another law course in the following year, but was molested and forced upon by a group of boys one evening on the campus. “After that evening, I didn’t go back. I was extremely distressed and frightened,” she shares. “It also made me realize that people didn’t know who a transgender was and had many wrong notions about the community,” she adds. With there being no way of going back to academics, she chose to turn towards social work with the foundation of Saksham Trust.
Toilets: A major issue
After twenty long years, when Dhanajay returned to the campus last year, she realised that the confusion over toilets persisted. “I was the only transgender student in the University last year. I was clear I did not want to use the male washroom and the girls would feel awkward when I entered the female washroom. For how long could that go, I thought,” she says.
Dhananjay then wrote to the vice chancellor in black and white requesting for separate toilets for transgenders on the campus. Fortunately, the university senate passed a budget of 23 Lakhs for building separate toilets. “Toilets was one major issue. For long, we were not allowed to use public toilets. Thankfully, now, the center has given us that right,” she says. “Somebody had to do that. I knew once the university provided us with facilities many from the community would return to studies,” she says.
Campaign for education and accommodation
A voice of the community in Punjab, today, Dhananjay is nothing short of a celebrity in the campus. From popular student political wings to student bodies, she is approached for her opinion when it comes to elections and crucial decisions.
Dhananjay says she is currently working for free education and accommodation for transgenders in the Punjab University. While she has written about this to the vice chancellor, an official response from him is yet to arrive. “It’s harrowing for us to search homes. I am myself living in an isolated shanty,” she says, while adding, “Most of us have no support from our families. If education and accommodation becomes free, I am sure many from the community can educate and empower themselves.”
Written By – Suyash Karangutkar