When they realised how much difference a safe environment and education could make for a vulnerable transgender youngster, the school decided to open their doors to the community.

This TN school is building a hostel for transgender teensSri Sivananda Balalaya school, Trichy
news Gender Saturday, July 27, 2019 - 12:18

Last year, the Sri Sivananda Balalaya (SSB) school in Trichy in Tamil Nadu, got its first transgender student. Krithi* had been cast out of her home for her gender identity and was on the streets for some time before she was found by a trans woman working towards uplifting the community. After months of persuasion, though Krithi’s mother accepted her, she made it clear that Krithi could not stay at home. That’s when Krithi was brought to SSB, where she was able to find support again. 

Krithi, who is now in Class 11, is completing her studies through National Institute of Open Learning (NIOS), and is also learning Bharatnatyam, her choice of dance form. 

When the school authorities realised how much difference a safe environment and education could make for a vulnerable transgender youngster such as Krithi, they decided to open their doors to the community. SSB is now planning to build a hostel with a capacity for 40 students, only for transgender students. The bhoomi pooja for the same was performed on Saturday. The school does not have a hostel facility otherwise.

“Puberty is an even more difficult time for transgender children because that is when their felt gender becomes clearer to them, even as their body changes. They may also be rejected by their families and drop out of schools. At this time of confusion and vulnerability is where we need to intervene. With these goals in mind, we decided to have a hostel to help children who are trying to figure out their gender identity,” says Bhanumathi, SSB Principal. 

The initiative is the brainchild of Retd Major General NRK Babu, who is the president of Swami Sivananda Vidya Samiti under which the school operates. According to information on the school on their website, the institution follows a system of inclusion and “stress-free education”. Elaborating on the same, Gen Babu explains that they have over 100 children with learning disorders who have the option of joining regular classes if they are able to cope over time; and all students are given the option of choosing from three boards - state board, CBSE and NIOS. There are no exams till class 4. 

“Inclusion and tolerance is integral to our approach to education,” Gen Babu says. “And this is something that transgender children need very much. When they reach class 6-8 and their mannerisms begin changing per their felt gender, the first people to reject them are the friends they had for years before. Over time, they may stop going to school due to the bullying and isolation. And then, most of them face rejection from parents as well.”

If these children leave home and end up on the streets, without education or livelihood skills, they are likely to have few options other than beggary and sex work, which is what most of the transgender community are compelled to turn to, Gen Babu says. “Like everyone else, they need dignity, respect and acceptance. If this can be provided at the right stage, they can be saved,” he adds. 

To that effect, Gen Babu shares that the school staff has been provided with adequate training to make the transgender children feel included and welcome. He plans for the hostel to be ready by January 2020. 

“We are hoping that parents who want their children to be in a safe space, even if they do not understand what is happening with their children, will take the opportunity to send them to SSB. During their time here, these children will be provided with psychological, legal as well as medical counselling to understand their identity better,” Gen Babu explains. 


The bhoomi pooja for the hostel was performed on July 27

In this regard, he is consulting Olga Aaron, a trans woman and activist who is the founder of Chennai-based NGO, Bravo. Olga tells TNM that she is helping and supporting Gen Babu. “I was accepted when I was coming out by my family, and therefore I was never forced on to the streets, and wasn’t forced to live according to someone else. There were still challenges, but it helped that I had the support of my family. I am hoping we can replicate that by providing a safe space to trans children at the school,” she says.

While she lauds SSB’s initiative and effort, she hopes that it will actually turn out to be space that allows transgender teens to flourish. “For one, parents should also be counselled to accept their children. This is the first step to building inclusive spaces, and it’s difficult to do so without family’s support,” Olga says. She adds that she is also negotiating with Gen Babu to include trans students who do not have economic support from their parents. 

To that end, Gen Babu says that they have a program called Umeed, which allows people to sponsor a child’s education expenses. 60 students at SSB are already receiving support under this Umeed. Some children also receive 50% scholarship through the Samiti under which SSB operates, which is continued for students who maintain their academic performance. 

“By the next academic year, I hope to be prepared for 40 transgender children. The only problem - happy problem - that will arise is if we get more children who want to be enrolled here. We will make arrangements in the future accordingly,” Gen Babu says. 

*Name changed

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