New Delhi: Realisation dawned on K Sheetal Nayak as an engineering student. And from that moment nothing was same for the young person. “I was born a boy. When I was studying engineering in Goa, it was there that I discovered my identity as a woman. My family didn’t accept this and I realised the dark side of being a transgender,” says K. Sheethal Nayak, a trans-woman, who was born and raised in Pondicherry. After four years of college when K. Sheethal Nayak came out to her parents about her identity, she wasn’t accepted. She decided to move out of the house.
Soon, Sheethal found out that members of the LGBTQ+ community were being abused, with no one to turn to. This discovery came to her one evening when she and her friends witnessed a man being beaten by two other men. The man was a prostitute and the two assaulters had refused to pay him for the sexual favours they had received. This led to a double discovery for Sheethal – there were other homosexual and transgender people in Pondicherry and they were an exposed group with no safety. It is then Sheethal decided to quit engineering and do something for her community.
In 1998 Sheethal started to work for the cause at a grass root level. She started arranging group discussions and get-togethers in safe places with members of the LGBTQ+ community. Talking about the challenges that transgender people face, Sheethal said,
For transgenders there are always challenges. Our challenges start from the family, our own mother doesn’t like us, they don’t want to accept us. In schools, we don’t get any recognition, there is no curriculum for us. For us mostly, we get two options that is begging and sex work. We face double the discrimination and stigma.
Sheethal’s passion about her cause led her to create SCOHD society in 2003 that stands for Sahodaran Community Oriented Health Development. Sahodaran, which means brother in Malayalam was created with the aim to create a safe space for people of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi and transgender) and MSM (men who haVE sex with men) community. Explaining the area of her work and her organisation, Sheethal said,
For 22 years, I have worked for the community. I have been working for the pride, LGBTQ groups in Pondicherry and have helped open up Transgender Federation in the state. Today, there are 15 self-help groups in the Transgender Federation, who work for safeguarding and protecting the rights of transgenders in the community. SCOHD also works as a supporting association for LGBTs and MSMs, providing health promotion and education for these vulnerable groups. Since these groups have very little chance of proper health care, SCOHD offers health counselling and treatment, counselling concerning mental health and well-being.
Apart from all this, SCOHD also promotes education and provides skill training to the community so that the community can uplift their status and get skilled jobs. Sheethal says that SCOHD is more than just a health clinic, it is a place for free expression, support and education, explaining the day-to-day working of the NGO, she adds,
On a daily basis, SCOHD is offering family counselling, HIV/AIDS and psycho-sexual counselling, legal aid counselling, protection against domestic, physical and homophobic violence. We have created a place where one can just come and talk, meet like-minded and be themselves.
Way Forward & Building A More Trans-inclusive Society
Sheethal says that once the family accepts the transgenders, things will be way more inclusive. She adds,
Inclusivity starts with the family. If our own father and mother accepts us and our own identity, then we – transgenders will have no problems.
Talking about the NGOs goal in the near future and how does she sustain her platform, Sheethal signed off by saying,
Our whole organisation works on donations. We are working with like-minded people and building a safer place for transgenders. In the near future SCOHD hopes to extend their activities by offering shelter to LGBTs WHO need a roof over their head. SCOHD also wants to fight discrimination in the workplace by setting up a factory where their members can be offered TO work together with others. This will provide them with both a possibility to earn a livelihood as well as feel accepted and safe where they work. Our long-term goal is justice and equality for all, changing the way Indians view this minority group while empowering its members to feel more comfortable being themselves.
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 – the LGBTQ 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 current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) 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, fight malnutrition, 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 like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.