Ramya*, a trans woman and activist who is now 32, stayed in a boys' hostel from class 5 to 10 in Gadag in northern Karnataka. "When I was growing up, transgender children like me who left home would be placed in boys' or girls' hostels. It was just the way it used to be," Ramya says.
Ramya left her parents' home at the age of 11 and she says that transgender children are a particularly vulnerable group at this age. "We are disproportionately bullied and we are affected by the harassment we face at this age," she explains. So, it was no surprise that her curiosity was piqued by a report that emerged last week about the first transgender children's home which is set to be established in Bengaluru.
Two transgender children's homes, one for those who identify as boys and another for those who identify as girls, were approved by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development in November and they will be built at a government complex on Hosur Road in the city.
The idea was mooted by Pallavi Akurathi, Director, Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) after she found that many transgender children in state-run children's homes were not comfortable. "Conversing with people from the transgender community, many spoke up about the harassment and violence they faced in children's homes and it was clear that a separate home exclusively for transgender children was needed," Pallavi says, speaking to TNM.
Those who will be sheltered here include orphans, abandoned children, street children, child labourers and child survivors of abuse. According to the Ministry, this is the first such facility approved in the country which is dedicated to transgender children.
Lack of survey
Currently, there is no estimation of how many transgender children are there in Karnataka and a baseline survey to determine this is yet to be conducted. The Women and Child Development department is currently working with other organisations to conduct the survey with a budget of Rs 70 lakh, but it is expected to begin only in February 2021. Such a survey has been conducted only in Kerala so far.
"There are challenges in conducting this survey. We are unaware of the places where children from the transgender community stay and we have to work with NGOs to conduct this survey," says an official from the department.
Even if the number of children in such accommodations may not be high, the effect for transgenders students will be powerful. "Having a home like this will make a big difference in the lives of transgender children," says Ramya.
Those who are not brought up in children homes are brought up by adults from the transgender community who take children in. This often comes with restrictions. "And because they are taken care of, the child and the teenager may be expected to earn money for the adult transgender person who is taking care of them. In many cases, the children who are away from their home do not complete their studies," Poornima Sukumar, founder of the Aravani Art Project, an art collective of women and trans women which involves the public and does wall art to raise awareness and create spaces for alternative voices.
Need for transgender persons as guardians
Poornima says that there is a need for adult transgender persons sensitive to the difficulties faced by young children to be present in a children's home like this.
While some children express a gender identity that is different from the one assigned to them at birth at a very young age, others take longer.
"It is difficult for children to express themselves and there is a need for transgender persons to be present in a children's home like this. They will be able to understand the nuances in the issues faced by young children and communicate with them. It could also be an employment opportunity for transgender persons," says Poornima.
'Push for education'
Officials in Bengaluru say that they are planning to involve organisations working for transgender persons rights in the dedicated home for transgender children. They also plan to ensure that students at the children's home complete their education. "We can monitor the education of children until they are 18. This will help more transgender children get education," says Pallavi.
This will open up more opportunities for the children to receive financial assistance from schemes like the Upkar scheme. Transgender men and women between the ages of 18 and 21 can receive a small financial assistance every month after they leave the children's home, Pallavi says.
She now wants to create awareness about the transgender children's homes coming up in Bengaluru. "We want people to know that transgender children who are abandoned or have left their home can be sheltered here," she adds.