Posted On June 23, 2023

‘Threats to her safety’ as Jenna begins to assert her identity in clothing and socially

Ashna Bhutani

“It was a few months ago when I started to change socially and medically. I wanted to stay in the hostel because I was experiencing transphobia outside and there was a threat to my life.” This is to say of 27-year-old Zena Sagar, who is a transwoman.

After a month-long battle, on 16 June she was finally allotted a room in the women’s hostel of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) in Kolkata, West Bengal.

Jena has recently revealed her identity to the world.

Although his journey was full of difficulties. Such as facing transphobia every day, financial crisis and single-handedly fighting for facilities like a room in a women’s hostel.

Jena is a second year student at the prestigious Film Institute. She is from Rajasthan and belongs to Dalit community.

Speaking to The Quint on June 12, she said, “I don’t have any financial support from my family. For the first two years, I was living in a rented house outside the college campus, but once I insisted on my identity When I started giving, I realized that I was in danger.”

It was only after this that he turned to SRFTI for a hostel, and from here began his endless struggle to get a safe place.

Jena says that even though she has a place to stay now, and will shift there in a day or two, her struggle is still going on.

She says that “until there is a policy for transgender students, my fight will continue. I got a room, it gave me relief… Now finally I can do my course work instead of fighting for a room.” I can start focusing on other things like that.”

This isn’t Jenna’s story alone.

The Quint spoke to two other transwomen from the University of Hyderabad and Panjab University about their fight for their rights on their campuses. During that time, both were struggling to answer one question- “Where do we end up?”

“I was told that I am not eligible to stay in the women’s hostel.”

Jena said that when she asked Rita Lee, the superintendent in charge of SRFTI, regarding a room in the women’s hostel, she refused.

Recalling the old incident, Jena said that “When I asked her (Rita Lee) regarding the room, she looked me up and down and said that she could not give me the room. Then we went to the admin officer. .. I had to explain to them that I am a transwoman. After listening to everything, they said that a medical board will be constituted to investigate the matter.”

After this, Jena wrote a letter to the registrar as well as the West Bengal Transgender Board.

SRFTI director Himanshu Shekhar Kathua told The Quint on 12 June that “we are processing the student’s application on priority. We hope to resolve the issue soon.”

Two days later, Jena was allotted a room in the women’s hostel.

‘Faced transphobia and death threats in rented house’

Jenna began emphasizing her identity as a transwoman a few months ago. Even though she was identified as male (male) at birth, 27-year-old Jena does not identify as such. Four months ago she started hormone therapy.

Jenna states that “before this, I was living with a hidden identity…”

Although Jenna’s batchmates and friends are supportive, this sentiment is not reflected in the outside world.

Jenna says that “I was living in a single room apartment. One day the landlord saw the man I was dating. During that time I was living with a male identity, when the landlord Saw me with her … then she realized I might be queer. I got death threats and had to leave that house. At that point I was scared for my life.”

Soon thereafter, Jenna shifted to another apartment.

Jena says that “Later on I started expressing my identity through clothes. The landlord didn’t ask me to leave but I could understand from his body language that he was not comfortable.. .”

This rented apartment is a few kilometers away from the college and Jenna does not feel safe to move around late at night. Jenna says that “the course is very demanding and sometimes we have to stay late at night. Because of this, I prefer the hostel room more than the rest.”

‘Wrote to the authorities first, then to the Transgender Welfare Board’

Jena sent a letter to the institute’s registrar on May 15 containing excerpts from the 2014 NALSA (National Legal Services Authority Vs Union of India) judgment which declared transgender people as the ‘third gender’ and affirmed that It was said that they are also entitled to the fundamental rights given under the Indian Constitution.

Jena also cited the ‘Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, 2020’, which clarifies that medical intervention includes any kind of ‘gender confirmation medical intervention’.

Referring to her current living situation, Jena wrote to the registrar that “as a student studying a residential course, these conditions are not ideal for me, as I have to consider basic needs such as security, which is essential for studies. essential pillar to create a conducive environment.”

In a letter sent to the registrar, Jena attached a letter from her endocrinologist that she is in the process of applying for a trans ID.

Jena also approached the West Bengal Transgender Welfare Board regarding her issues. The board replied via mail, a copy of which has been accessed by The Quint. The reply given in the mail read that “As you pointed out, the behavior of SRFTI officials has been very transphobic and they are not aware of the current transgender persons laws in the country.”

He reiterated Jena’s rights under the Transgender Protection Act 2019, which states the validity of the Gender Dysphoria Certificate and Endocrinologist’s letter, and added that anti-discrimination rules must be followed in all educational institutions.

SRFTI director Himanshu Shekhar Kathua told The Quint that “At this point of time, SRFTI does not have a specific policy for transgender students. We promote inclusivity and have policies in place to support transgender students (rights of transgender persons). Act, taking inputs from Transperson Development Board and other universities.

About the hostel he said:

“Our institute has two hostels (one for male students and one for female students) with limited capacity. Preference is given to senior students for hostel accommodation depending on the application and availability. Some students as day scholars We are actively exploring how to identify gender-neutral/inclusive spaces in hostels/campus to meet the need.”

SRFTI director Himanshu Shekhar Kathua

Refuting the claims of discrimination, the director of SRFTI said that Jena is being supported in every possible way. They said they are working towards finding a “proper solution to stay” and the issue will be resolved soon.

From SRFTI to Panjab, Hyderabad University: How These Transwomen Are Reforming Spaces

Jenna’s desire to work in the film industry was motivated by her desire to increase the representation of the queer community. Jenna is currently working on a documentary with a queer narrative. She says that “this will be my first film as Jenna”.

“Real authentic stories of people like us should be told by people like us, instead of someone else representing us.”

Jenna Sagar

When Jena didn’t get much help, she reached out to other people in her community like Yashika.

Originally from Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, Yashika has obtained a master’s degree in HR studies from Punjab University. There, Yashika has conducted qualitative research on the topic ‘Inclusive Education for the LGBTQIA community in Higher Studies in India’.

When she came in front of the world, her experience was similar to that of Jenna. He said that “Since my family is from rural area and people do not know about our rights, many people used to look down upon me. Relatives in the village started saying that ‘He has been caught by a ghost!’

Even though the situation on campus was slightly better, she was denied a room in the women’s hostel because of no policy for transgender students, even though she was on the merit list of the hostel.

Yashika’s struggle started in March 2022. He wrote a letter to the Transgender Welfare Committee and the Ministry of Social Justice and filed a writ petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. When the board and the High Court intervened in the matter, the university provided them free accommodation in the women’s hostel and free mess facilities in the campus.

Yashika told The Quint that

“Our first two years of college were online. When I reached the campus in March 2022, I was not given accommodation. Since I had no place to stay, I protested outside the VC’s office for two-three days And it stopped there… My Head of Department (HOD) was very supportive and helped me financially.”

Apart from this, talking about another transwoman, she is 22-year-old Ritik Lalan of Hyderabad University, who was given a single room with an attached bathroom in the men’s hostel.

The master’s course student, who belongs to the Ambedkar Students’ Union (ASU), said, “By the time I joined college, I had learned how to navigate the university space. I wrote to the authorities, and I was told by men A guest room was allotted in the hostel, it was a private room and it also had an attached washroom… I am comfortable and safe.”

Hrithik is also an elected representative of GSCASH (Gender Sensitization Committee Against Sexual Harassment). Hrithik says that after entering student politics, people respected him more.

She (Hrithik) says that “there is still transphobia… sometimes, guards stop me and question me. It’s not their fault, it’s because of the lack of awareness. University space is imagined when So the rights of the transgender community do not come within its ambit.”

Apart from fighting to stay in the hostel, Jena, Yashika and Hrithik also demanded free hostel accommodation for transgender students.

Yashika, who belongs to the Scheduled Caste (SC) community, said that “ever since I came out a few years ago, I have faced stalking as well as verbal and physical abuse… I am racist and Also used to hear transphobic slurs. On top of that we don’t have family support, how will we pay for education and hostel? Ideally, all colleges should provide free accommodation for transgender students .”

Courtesy : The Quint