For Nivedhiya Anand, a 21-year-old tribal intersex and transgender student, education has been synonymous to struggle all through her life. In the first week of December, she returned to her home in Pathanamthitta from a residential school for tribal students in Kasaragod, dropping out just three months before her final exams.
Nivedhiya, who is intersex, was assigned male at birth and was brought up as a boy by her family. However, she identifies as a woman. She alleges that she was subjected to severe ostracism and public shaming by her teachers at the residential school, which forced her to drop out. She also claims that she was denied food in the hostel mess on some days.
She got admitted to the school for the 2017-2018 academic year through a special government order.
As with many intersex children, Nivedhiya was assigned a gender at birth that she did not identify with when she grew up. Till 16, she dressed up as a boy, but she did not identify as one.
However, other than her internal conflicts and taunts over her soft voice, this period was relatively bearable. But things changed for the worse when she shifted schools.
"A year after 10th standard, I got admission in Model Residential School in Kannur for Plus two. After attending classes for a year, I could not continue due to severe mental harassment. I was in a boys' residential school, but everyone, including me, knew that my gender is different. So, I was teased and neglected by schoolmates and teachers. Then, I quit my studies," she recalls.
After returning home, her real struggle began when she started to assert her identity and embrace her womanhood. Nivedhiya comes from a tribe in the Muthuvan community of Pathanamthitta district, and when she refused to present as a man, she faced ostracism in her own house, hamlet and society.
"I started wearing women's clothes. My father never accepted it. He asked me to leave my house. I shifted to a single shed near my house, where I cooked my food and lived. I started working as a home nurse and earned my living. But, I always had this intense wish to continue my studies," she says.
She decided to fight back and sought the help from the government. She got admission in Model Residential School, Paravanadukkam, in Kasaragod district, through a government order. "I attended classes for the last one-and-a-half years under severe mental pressure. I did not have a single person to talk to me nicely in the school. I was all alone, but I suffered everything for the sake of an education," she says.
She adds that she was denied food if she was late by even five minutes to the mess. "My fellow students don't like me sitting with them. If I sit near them, they will just walk away. So, I go five minutes late to the mess. But they cite that to deny me food. I take tablets as part of my hormone therapy. If I don't get food, how will I survive?" she asks.
Apart from this, Nivedhiya also alleges that she was teased and harassed by a few of her teachers inside the class. "I was never allowed to ask questions in the class. My doubts may be stupid, as I haven't got enough exposure like others. The teachers who taught me Botany and Zoology would shout at me when I asked something," she says.
On December 4, Nivedhiya asked a question about cultivation in class.
"Suddenly, the teacher stopped the class, threw the book on the table and shouted at me, 'Don't you know this?!' I told her that I didn't know. Then, she told the other students how pathetic my condition was. All the students laughed at me for a long time. I felt like running away from there," she says.
The incident led her to attempt suicide on the same day.
She was taken to a hospital nearby after the attempt failed. Later, she returned home just three months prior to her final exams.
Since she hasn't found acceptance at home either, she's now moved to a shelter home in Thiruvananthapuram.