She left home unable to stand her parents’ rejection of her gender identity, she struggled to finish school, and now, finally, she’s started her journey to becoming a doctor. Tharika S Banu, a young transgender woman, is an inspiration for many – and she has now attained a seat in the Government Siddha Medical College, thanks to a Madras High Court order.
But her journey from attaining an admission in a government school to getting a college seat was not an easy one.
Tharika hails from Thoothukudi district in Tamil Nadu and studied till Class 11 in a government school there. “My parents refused to accept me when I told them that I’m a transgender person. But I continued to study there till Class 11. After that, it became unbearable. People used to repeatedly make fun of me in school and treat me badly,” says Tharika.
She decided to leave her house and come to Chennai. “After I had my surgery and transitioned, Grace Banu adopted me,” Tharika says, referring to another young trans woman and activist. “She is the one supporting me for my education,” Tharika says.
Tharika Banu was adopted by Grace Banu, an activist, about three years ago. “She told me that she wants to study further. That’s when we started applying to different schools for her admissions,” says Grace Banu.
First, they applied in Perunthalaivar Kamarajar Senior Secondary School – a girls’ school – in the city, but the headmaster claimed that they only had English medium, whereas Tharika has studied in Tamil medium throughout. “But later, we came to know that the school had Tamil medium. We realised that they did not want a transgender person in their school. But we weren’t ready to give up,” Grace says.
To ensure that Tharika got an admission into the school, Grace met the Collector and carried out protests. But the district wasn’t ready to admit that trans women are also women.
“The Collector told us that there are 3000 girls studying in that school, “How can we let you study there?” he asked. They promised to get us an admission in a co-ed school, but we refused to accept it,” Tharika recalls.
Grace Banu was adamant that her daughter should only study at a girls’ school.
“I insisted that my daughter wants admission in a girls’ higher secondary school. They told us that if anything happened to other girls, my daughter will be held responsible. I told them that I will write a letter and give it to them stating that if anything happens to my daughter, the authorities will be held responsible. Finally, they gave her admission. I was very disappointed with them,” says Grace.
But once Tharika got an admission in the school, she did not face too much trouble, as the staff was supportive and her classmates also helped her.
But after Class 12, she again had to fight another battle for a seat in Bachelor of Siddha Medicine and Surgery (BSMS) course at Siddha Government College. Tharika applied to the college but she was never called for counselling as she had only secured 45.25% and the minimum requirement was 50% in Class 12 examinations.
Tharika then filed a petition in the Madras High Court, and the court ordered the college to provide a seat in the institution. The court stated that the 50% cut off was applicable only for male and female students, and not for those applying under the ‘third gender’ category.
“I’m very thankful to the judge that he gave this judgement, he also said that reservation is very important for transgender people,” Tharika says.
“My main aim is to become a Siddha doctor and help the downtrodden people in the society,” adds Tharika.
Though Grace Banu is also happy that Tharika has gotten admission into a college of her choice, she feels that this is not a permanent solution to the question of education for transgender persons.
“I feel very happy but does each and every transgender person have to go to the High Court to get justice? We want a permanent solution. We want separate reservation for transgender persons in education and employment. That is our demand, and we said this in the High Court as well. The court has asked the Tamil Nadu government to take a decision regarding this,” Grace says.
“There are many people like Tharika who want an education, the main problem is that there is no reservation. Our demand is that governments should follow the 2014 Supreme Court judgment in the NALSA case, and implement the order in all states and provide reservation for us,” Grace says.