By Rimli Bhattacharya
“There’s a gender in your brain and a gender in your body. For 99 percent of people, those things are in alignment. For transgender people, they’re mismatched. That’s all it is. It’s not complicated, it’s not a neurosis. It’s a mix-up. It’s a birth defect, like a cleft palate” – Chaz Bono
With the Supreme Court re-examining Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, this is an appropriate time to take a look at the tragic life of Daya Rani, the transgender woman politician, who was shot dead in her house on 4 July, 2015. Since we celebrated the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on 17 May 2018, it is mandatory for us folks to teach about Rani, who fought for the LGBTQ and other human rights. Not much is known about her childhood and parents, except for the fact that she hailed from Uttar Pradesh and worked for the transgender community. She was a political activist, who lived in a bungalow in Dasna with her other fellow mates.
Before I go into the details of Rani, let’s understand what exactly Section 377 is and why there is a nationwide outcry against the same. As per the Indian Penal Code, Section 377 is an obsolescent law introduced during the British regime in the 1860s, which suggests that any sexual activity against the ‘law of nature’ is punishable. It includes carnal, anal or oral sex between man and man, woman and woman or man/woman with an animal. While the need to identify a third gender is a necessity, Section 377 verdict that gay/transgender sex is criminal acted as a major setback for human rights and invited criticism. The activists have claimed that section 377 is a weapon to harass and threaten the LGBTQ community. However, politicians such as Rahul Gandhi, Shashi Tharoor, Derek O’ Brien, Brinda Karat, parties like AAP and a lot more of them have come out in support of the LGBTQ community and have stressed that homosexuality should not be considered criminal.
Our history has recorded the life of transgender people in the Mughal courts and during the reign of other Muslim rulers. They were employed as attendants of the chieftains or as guardians of the harems. With the downfall of the Mughal empire, the transgender community, better known as ‘Eunuchs’, was left without patronage as they lost their jobs and influence.
According to scientific theory, eunuchs are born male with a small penis and no testes, or have been castrated at a very young age. Some are born females with no female genitals and further succumb to surgeries to develop female breasts. Some are also born with genitals pertaining to both the genders. They have facial hair like a normal man and often resort to inducing hormones to develop feminine features. To be precise, they are born with female minds trapped in the body of a man. As they age, they prefer female costumes and also take female names. They prefer heavy jewelry and clothing to assume the look of a woman and also as a bride.
With no privileged social status provided to them, the Eunuchs usually dwell on the margins of a society making a living by singing at weddings, blessing the newborns, collecting money/gifts on auspicious occasions and also begging in trains and streets. Sometimes they even resort to prostitution to earn money. With such a lowly existence, a group of Eunuchs have demanded certain government jobs to be set aside for them to lead a decent life. However, an increasing number of transgender or eunuchs have developed an interest in Indian politics with half a dozen being employed as municipal counselors or mayors. They generally contest as independent candidates and win with popular votes, as people are fed up with our corrupt politicians. Daya Rani was one such candidate.
Born in 1959, Rani lived with other eunuchs in a bungalow in Dasna, Uttar Pradesh. With no formal education, she contested as an independent candidate for the general elections from the Ghaziabad Lok Sabha constituency in 2004, 2009, and 2014. Rani, who had a strong support base among Eunuchs from all parts of India, had said that instead of mounting a stage and addressing stereotypical rallies, she preferred to tour through localities for a door-to-door campaign. Though it was arduous for her, she believed that it was the best way to build a solid relationship with people and win votes. She had said, “You have to make people believe we will care for them [if we win]. We do not make hollow promises like most politicians.” Ms Rani, who had lost in the parliamentary and Delhi assembly elections in the past, had contested against heavyweights such as Rajnath Singh, president of the BJP, the Hindu nationalist party, and Surendra Prakash Goel, a sitting Congress MP. Yet, she was hopeful of faring better.
“Roads are in a bad shape, power cuts have reached horrific levels and women are scared to go outside alone. The sitting MP has done nothing to improve the quality of people’s lives in Ghaziabad. This time people want to elect a new representative,” said Rani, who launched her own political party, Sarva Samaj Sewa Samiti [All Community Welfare Society], in which she assumed the role of the chief. She had said, “Compared to previous campaigns, more people are coming forward to convey their best wishes and pledge their support for me. I stand a good chance this time.”
Stressing on her gender identity, Rani had said that the people supported her because other politicians filled their homes and cupboards with the public money. She had no children, husband, wife or heirs. Whatever family she had was her own community and that she lived off these people and will fight for them against the politicians, who never delivered on their promises. She experienced a major setback, when the District Magistrate cancelled her nomination in 2014.
In a country prejudiced against sexual orientation, the support for a eunuch politician is very less. Mohammad Talib who works with a halal restaurant in the vicinity where Rani dwelt believed that eunuchs are less corrupt, more sincere, and should be in administration. In support of the need for a government, headed by a eunuch, the transgender community had once released a statement saying, “Our politicians beg us for votes during elections and don’t show up after they win. For years [even before joining politics] Daya Rani always tried to help poorer people in our locality. We are confident that she can help us more if she becomes more powerful. We shall vote for her, indeed.” While observers agreed that running against such opponents as Mr. Goel and Mr. Singh in the high-profile constituency weakened Ms. Rani’s chances of winning, she and her supporters believed she can still pull off a surprise victory. Neelam, a eunuch and a supporter of Ms Rani, had said in a typical hijra style: “You don’t need genitals for politics, you need brains. And our leader [Daya Rani] has plenty of those.”
Rani, who had once supported Mayawati and the local candidate, Mukul Upadhyay, when asked what stance Mayawati’s party had taken on section 377 had taken, had clarified, “I don’t know what this Section 377 is. I just know Mukul calls me his mother and I accept him as my son. I have given my support to Behenji with both hands.” For Rani, her activism was more important rather than our house of justice’s verdict on Section 377.
However, all her dreams to uplift her community and fight for transgender went unfulfilled when Rani was shot dead by two people at her residence in Kaila Bhatta area of Ghaziabad in 2015. The motive behind her murder seemed to be usurping all her wealth. It was a disappointment to the eunuch community, who treated her as their mother.
As the Supreme Court gives a ray of hope to the LGBTQ community by re-looking at Section 377, it’s time we remember Rani and her contribution towards the transgender community and for the common masses as well. While we still have a long way to go to fight the stigma associated with the LGBTQ community, we need to fight this battle together so that these people get proper justice and are not subjected to humiliation anymore.
To conclude, we must remember Daya Rani’s struggle as an activist each day, until her life was cut short by a tragic event. It is our duty to protect the lives of the transgender community. We also need to scrap the Transgender Rights Bill – 2016, proposed by the current fascist regime in India.
Rimli Bhattacharya completed Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology. After obtaining an MBA, she worked in the corporate sector. Rimli is a trained Indian classical dancer, based out of Mumbai, India. She tweets at: @rimli76
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