Shyama dreams of doing her PhD at either Delhi’s JNU or Hyderabad’s UoH, where there is acceptance of trans identities.

Shyama the first recipient of Kerala govts transgender scholarship has PhD dreams
news Education Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - 19:15

As a trans woman, it has never been easy for Shyama S to chase her dreams.

Shyama has had to brave many odds to earn and to study, and the struggle goes on. But the 25-year old is overwhelmed to have won the first state government scholarship for transgender persons. She is the first recipient of the Rs 20,000 award, introduced as a part of the Kerala government’s Transgender Policy to encourage greater transgender participation in education.

Shyama, who recently completed her Masters in Education from the University of Kerala, dreams of pursuing her PhD in Education at Jawaharlal Nehru University or the University of Hyderabad. “In those campuses, we get wholehearted acceptance. The situation is not the same in Kerala. Whatever changes are happening, the social stigma here won’t break,” she says.

Narrating the continued abuse she has been subjected to, Shyama says, “I was a victim of verbal abuse in school and college. I was ridiculed when I attended an interview for a teacher’s post at a school in Kazhakuttam 2014. The members of the interview board ridiculed my look and behavior. But I am not ready to give up.  I chose not to react to abuses and I was determined that my focus will be on studies,” Shyama tells TNM. 

Hailing from a financially backward family at Karamana in Thiruvananthapuram, Shyama’s mother has been her sole support for many years now. “My father died when I was a Plus Two student. My mother has been the sole bread winner of our family since then. She was working as a maid, but stopped it last year after my younger brother got a job in the Gulf,” narrates Shyama. She and her mother live in a single room attached to the house of her uncle. “My mother has never shown any ill-will towards me. She understands my behavior and why I am dressing like this, but even for her it is difficult to understand the struggle I am going through. I haven’t shared it with anyone,” she adds.

The big challenge for Shyama and scores of other transgender persons like her, who are enthusiastic about higher education is the lack of job opportunities when their studies are done. Kerala, the first to specifically formulate a Transgender Policy, envisages 2% reservation for transgender persons in government jobs. “But the policy still remains in paper. In all the application forms, there are still only two gender options – male and female – which prevents us from even applying for jobs,” says Shyama. “The Kerala Public Service Commission hasn’t yet taken an open stand on this. They hesitate to provide us jobs. One of the board members of PSC said that there is no job which can be done with the sex organ, which itself implies that nothing is going to change in the near future. We see the signs of change only in the younger generation, they don’t discriminate against us,” she adds.

Shyama’s scholarship win has been possible thanks to support from the Oasis Cultural Society, an organisation that works for transgender persons. It was the Society’s board member, Prijith, who took the initiative to help Shyama apply for the scholarship. Shyama hopes that her success will inspire others and create greater awareness about the scholarship. Shyama earns a meager income by participating in television comedy and dance shows, and has managed to meet her study expenses so far through this avenue. But she is aware that this won’t be enough if she has to go to Delhi or Hyderabad for further studies. She hopes that the government will support her dreams further, and plans to meet the Minister for Social Justice to seek her help.