As hundreds of nursing aspirants across Tamil Nadu received their ranks for counselling last year, Thamilselvi too fervently hoped she had qualified to a government institute to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a nurse.
Her hopes, however, were dashed all too soon when the Directorate of Medical Education in the state decided that her gender disqualified her from qualifying.
In a shocking video that emerged on social media, Thamilselvi recounts the horrors she had to face as a transgender woman when the government body reportedly did not recognise her gender, despite a 2014 Supreme Court ruling that affirms the rights of transgender persons.
Thamilselvi asks in the video, "They have made me run here and there. They are not answering me properly. Education is my fundamental right. Why am I not being granted equal rights as an Indian citizen? The Supreme Court has already given the judgement. What more do they want?"
It began in 2017 when Thamilselvi, who hails from the Pulliyankannu village in Vellore district, applied to the TN Nursing Council admissions. Her Class 12 exam marks comfortably met the criteria for the diploma she hoped to pursue. Students of both private and government institutions sit for the same exam in the state.
However, she alleges, even though she cleared the nursing test and got a rank, Tamil Naduâ€™s Directorate of Medical Education (DME) does not recognise any gender other than male and female.
Even though she wasnâ€™t allowed to take part in the government counselling, Thamilselvi refused to give up.
She decided study in a private college despite the heavy financial burden she would incur.
She tells TNM, â€śI was not allowed to study in a government college, so I applied to a private institution, which gave me a seat. Within two months of me joining this institution, I received a letter from the DME stating that transgender persons are not eligible to study the course. When I approached the Health Department, I was asked to apply under the female category and not the transgender persons category, since there was no option for the latter. As I was eager to study, I agreed. I had to change my name and this had to reflect in all my certificates. But even after doing that, I got another letter from the DME stating that they were not the deciding authority on my education and it has to be the Indian Nursing Council.â€ť
Thamilselviâ€™s only source of support is her mother, who is a daily wage labourer. Even as they struggle to make ends meet, Thamilselvi has already shelled out close to Rs 70,000 for her tuition fees, uniform and transport to the private college.
She also alleges that in addition to subjecting her to a never-ending cycle of bureaucracy, the DME also cast aspersions on the manner in which she acquired the documents which reflected her changed name.
When Thamilselvi finally received permission to continue her studies, she thought her ordeal was over.
â€śWhen I informed them that I had got the necessary permission, the DME then said they need a special Government Order from the Health Department,â€ť she says.
Speaking to TNM, the Director of Medical Education Edwin Joe claims, "Once the students join services, then I, as DME, will take care of them and ensure they get a salary and all that. Before they join, you have to talk to the selection committee."
When asked about the admission process not allowing transgender persons to apply, he says, â€śIt is not like that. It is clearly mentioned in the prospectus that it is male, female and others.â€ť
But with no certainty on her getting a hall ticket for the examinations held in August, Thamilselvi has been forced to quit her studies.
She is hoping to get a government order passed in the interim so she can apply for the upcoming yearâ€™s admissions.
She asks, â€śEverywhere I go, people stare at transgender women. They look at us like we are beggars and sex workers. If we are given education, why would we resort to begging and sex work?â€ť
Thamilsevi says she is tired of the lip service she has received from the various government departments. With five months left for the next yearâ€™s admission to begin, she hopes to take up a job in the interim to support herself.
â€śI have knocked on the doors of every government department there is. I will go the legal route now. I will take it up and make sure I get admissions in the next year at least,â€ť she says with resolve.