New Delhi: “I was born as Umesh in a small village called Channapatna, which is approximately 60 km from Bengaluru. We come from a family of farmers and my farther wanted me to take forward our farm work. But life had a different plan for me, I didn’t enjoy working in the farms. I loved working with my mother, cooking, washing utensils and taking care of the house. By the time I was four-year-old, I have accepted myself as a girl,” says 42-year-old Uma, now a transgender activist, who is working for LGBTQIA+ Community rights in India for past 23 years.
Uma also heads a non-profit organisation Jeeva in Bengaluru, which is basically a platform for LGBTQ community, where they can come out openly and be accepted for who they really are.
“My Childhood Went In Confusion”
“I had to leave education in school when I was in 7th standard as I faced a lot of discrimination. My friends used to call me chhakka and Hijra. They even boycotted me for my identity. In school, I was the only one with a different identity, I had no one like me there. I often used to think, why am I the only one who is odd one out. There was a lot of confusion in my mind and I felt mentally very disturbed. Teachers also didn’t understand me, they used to continuously tell me that behave like a boy and not a girl..,” said Uma.
“Being A Transgender In An Indian Family Is Tough”
Further talking about her family and acceptance, Uma said,
My father didn’t like me behaving like a girl. He used to hit me. To change my identity, he tried every possible thing – from putting dried mirchis (chillies) smoke to taking me to temples regularly, he did it all. But I couldn’t change. I was like a boy only in terms of body, from inside, I felt like a girl. And nothing could change that.
After a few years of daily struggles, Uma’s neighbours gave family an advice, which they thought would have been a solution.
“They told my family to marry me with a girl. But I strongly opposed that as I couldn’t destroy anyone’s future. My parents then started to abuse me regularly and pressurised me to get married. At the age of 17, I decided to ran away from my house,” said Uma.
“Was Happy To Join My Community, But The Work Options Were Only Limited To Begging and Sex Work”
Uma explained while she was happy to be a part of the transgender community and be with the people who were alike, the problem was limited work opportunities. She said,
The only option in Hijra Community is begging or sex work. I didn’t want to do any of that. I wanted to work for my community and make their struggles, voice heard in the society, as I realised how difficult it is for them to get accepted.
It was in 2011, when Uma came out to the world openly and started to talk more about her own gender identity. In 2012, Uma started her organisation Jeeva as she wanted to give transgenders a platform to come out freely and talk openly about their issues. She said, “I wanted to create a safe place for my community.”
“At The Age Of 42, I Decided To Go For A Full Transition”
Uma had been living a life like a woman but she never got her surgery done until the age of 42. Explaining her transition journey and why she waited for this long, Uma said,
One reason I didn’t go for the surgery before was because of my mother. She had told me you can live in whatever way you feel like, just don’t get the surgery done. But, in this life only, for once, I had to fully feel like a woman and that’s why I decided to go for a surgery at the age of 42.
Explaining the transition period and the challenges she faced, Uma said,
First, I couldn’t find the right doctors for the counselling and surgery. For one full year, I struggled to find the right doctors and get my counselling certificates for the surgery. Once, I had my certificates, I had to undergo a lot of tests – from kidney function to liver, cholesterol levels, I had to get tested for each and everything. Finally, this year in July, I got my bottom surgery done, which costed me 2.5 lakh. This was just for the surgery alone, the regular counselling, medical check-ups are not included. Before surgery, when I was taking hormone therapy, I had side effects like mood swings, stomach pain. After the surgery, though I was very happy to finally get it done, but pain overtook that happiness. During this time, I missed my family a lot.
In this whole transition journey, there were many lessons that Uma learned. Sharing her learnings and things that other people from the community should know before going for the surgery, Uma said,
We have to take care of ourselves after the surgery, one year is the recovery time, if you ask me. We need a person who can take care of us, without support, the journey is not possible. And reproductive health is very important, we have to take care of hygiene. The one thing, I want to recommend to my community is that go for counselling. It will help in your transition journey. Secondly, save money, the treatment is very costly. Thirdly, understand what all surgeries you want to undertake, research for hospitals and doctors. Lastly, have patience. Understand the transition will take time.
“Unfortunately, India Doesn’t Have A System In Place For Surgeries For Transgenders”
Narrating the experience of someone she knew who was undergoing the surgery, Uma highlights the grim situation in India when it comes to healthcare for transgenders, Uma said,
Information is very limited in India, and unfortunately, we don’t have any system in place. Many of us want to go for a proper surgery, but accessibility is not there. Even today, our surgeries are not done in all hospitals, it is only available in few small places. Even doctors and healthcare staff ratio for such surgeries is less. One of my friends went for top surgery recently, she was called by the hospital at nighttime and the staff asked her to come alone. Her surgery took place at 4 am in morning and at 9:30 am in morning, the doctor asked her to leave the hospital. That’s when she called me, when I went there, I was taken by the surprise. I asked the doctor not to do this, treat her like normal patient, but no-one cared to listen.
The ordeal didn’t end there, Uma said,
When we started to create a scene, doctor turned around and told me, go back, don’t shout, I am an original woman, you guys are just a duplicate copy. I felt so disheartened listening to this and getting such a treatment in a hospital.
Uma signed off with a plea on behalf of the community, she said,
Society, I request you to not show sympathy to us. We are also human beings, accept us, the way we are. We are very much part of the society; we all need to live together and respect each other.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – theLGBTQ population,indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the currentCOVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water,SanitationandHygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fightmalnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health,adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues likeair pollution,waste management,plastic ban,manual scavengingand sanitation workers andmenstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India wheretoiletsare used andopen defecation free (ODF)status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched byPrime Minister Narendra Modiin 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.