School for trans students opens in India
by Heather Cassell
A new school for transgender students seeking to complete their education has opened in the southwestern Indian state Kerala.
The school, Sahaj International, was founded by Indian transgender activist, actor, and writer Kalki Subramaniam, along with transgender activists Vijayaraja Mallika, Maya Menon, and Faisal CK. It opened December 30.
Subramaniam inaugurated the school at a ceremony attended by the media. Mallika heads the school.
"Kerala has some 25,000 transgenders, and 57 percent of them were forced to drop out of school due to stigma," said Mallika.
There are an estimated 2 million transgender Indian citizens.
"The most important tool for the underprivileged, discriminated marginalized, oppressed community is education, because education brings light, knowledge, truth, and confidence," added Subramaniam.
The school has already admitted six of 10 of its transgender students for its first year of operation, according to Mallika.
"Of the 10 seats, we have reserved one for female-to-male and one for the disabled," she said.
Some of the courses will offer soft skill training such as stitching, organic farming, oration, personality development and more, reported the Indian Express.
The goal of the new educational institution will be to assist transgender individuals ages 25 to 50 who dropped out of school due to discrimination. The school will prepare the students for their board exams and other vocational training, according to media reports.
The media outlet also reported that the school will also allow for short-term housing and a kitchen in addition to classrooms.
Kerala was the first state in India to adopt an anti-discrimination policy for transgender individuals in government hospitals and offer free gender reassignment surgery as well as support, setting up a transgender taxi company.
Other states have followed suit, extending benefits to the transgender community. Odisha state was the first to extend welfare benefits, such as pensions, to transgender citizens.
Nuns of the Congregation of Mother of Carmel opened a building at Thrikkakara on the outskirts of Kochi, a city in Kerala, after 50 potential landlords turned them away. An estimated 60 volunteer teachers and social workers have signed on to assist with academic, vocational skills, and confidence building exercises for the students, reported Daily News and Analysis.
"They seemed to think that we were looking for space for prostitution," said Mallika, who once worked for a private firm for eight years before she lost her job after she was discovered to be a transgender woman.
Sahaj International is managed by the TransIndia Foundation, which is run by six transgender individuals and a cis woman, reported the Indian Express.
Some sponsors have already lined up to contribute to the school.
"There is considerable political support for us now, but the wheels of administration move too slowly," Mallika told the media.
The school is not a part of India's Other Backward Class, which reserves 49.5 percent of government funding for educational institutions. The OBC was part of the mandate by an India Supreme Court ruling in 2014 legally recognizing transgender citizens. Nor is the school associated with the Kerala Literacy Mission's literacy workshop for unschooled transgender persons.
"In the future, our paths may merge with such government schemes, but for us, this is a five-to 10-year project where we want to create a scalable and adaptable curriculum to meet the specific employment and inclusive needs of transgenders," said Mallika, who explained the facility is a test school to create a model that will hopefully be replicated in other cities in the future.
"Once proved successful, we will expand the facilities and admit more people, from across India," she continued. "We are not going to rush to the government seeking funding. We want to demonstrate that we have a successful model."
"This has to change if we have to change the destiny of those people who were abandoned by their families and who had lost opportunity to get educated," Mallika told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We want to try and mainstream them, and integrate them into society with a complete education and some skills with which they can find a job and be independent.
"The school aims at making transgenders eligible for taking decent jobs and living a dignified life," Mallika added.
District Collector Muhammad Y. Safeerulla lauded the school's founders, stating that such initiatives will help end discrimination and ensure gender justice. The Indian Express reported that he pledged that his administration will extend all support for the benefit of transgender individuals.
In addition to education, the Supreme Court's 2014 ruling also legalized transgender individuals to inherit property and fill quotas in jobs and educational institutions. However, many transgender individuals continue to face extreme discrimination within their families and throughout society that continues to force them to the fringe of society peddling, turning to the sex trade, dancing at weddings, and other odd jobs to earn a living.
India's first transgender principal resigns
Manabi Bandopadhyay, a transgender woman who was principal of Krishnanagar Women's College, tendered her resignation, citing non-cooperation from staff and students.
Bandopadhyay, 50, made history last June when she was named principal of the well-known women's college.
Nadia District Magistrate Sumit Gupta confirmed he received Bandopadhyay's letter of resignation December 27. The letter was forwarded to the state higher education department on Wednesday.
Her tenure is clouded with controversies and allegations of graft. The school is under investigation by the Joint Director of Public Instruction R.P. Bhattacharjee and a four-member team following a report filed by Bandopadhyay against two of her professors who allegedly assaulted her, along with other complaints of non-cooperation. School faculty also filed a report against Bandopadhyay making the same allegations. It resulted in a standoff.
Protests by college administrators and students erupted following the report and classes were shut down for a week last month. Some believe Bandopadhyay's resignation was fallout from the demonstrations, reported New Indian Express.
Bandopadhyay told the media that she believed the tensions were against her tough administration policies.
"All of my colleagues went against me. Some of the students went against me. I tried to bring back discipline and an atmosphere of education in the college," she said. "Most probably, that is why they went against me. I always got cooperation from the local administration, but never got it from my colleagues and students."
"I feel like a newly-wed woman who was welcomed on the wedding night and burned a year later," she said. "I am tired with continuous agitations. I came with a lot of hope but feel defeated."
Bandopadhyay transitioned in 2003 while working as a professor at a college in the same district. She was also the editor of India's first transgender magazine Sub-Human (Ob-Manab) in 1995.
Bandopadhyay plans to return to her former college as a professor.
Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell, or .