The political landscape of Telangana is typically of the men and for the men. The painted banners, the glitzy advertisements, and the orchestra of roadshows valourise men and their politics of [doing] the bare minimum. While the prodigal sons of the Telangana democracy get away with their false promises, the gender representation in the Telangana State Assembly dwindles from 9 [women]:110 [men] legislators in 2014 to 6 [women]:113 [men] legislators in 2019. But now, there is a flicker of hope taking rebellious birth in the candidature of two transgender women in Telangana, who refuse to be shunted from the streets, government offices and public opportunities by vying to break the gender amnesia of Indian politics.
Meet Matashree Janakamma and Pushpitha Laya Chitrapu, two transgender leaders fighting from Jadcherla and Warangal East Assembly seats respectively, in the upcoming Telangana Assembly elections.
Justice rooting in Jadcherla
In a room at the backyard of a house, Matashree Janakamma (46), a devoted Shiv Shakti, gets ready to canvass votes for her political candidacy from the Jadcherla Assembly segment. When approached, she greets you with her goddess's blessing and the prasad's bridling sweetness. The narration of the everyday ordeal of transgender persons in Telangana seldom overpowers her kindness. “I am fighting for an Assembly seat in a society which hesitates to even share a bus seat with us,” she says.
“There are more than 58,918 trans persons (Samagra Kutumba Survey, 2014) in Telangana, yet we are left out of state welfare programmes such as the much-acclaimed Rythu Bandhu and the housing scheme for the poor. When the Rashtra Samanya Praja (RSP) party gave me a ticket to contest the state elections, I had to brave systematic discrimination, which other candidates do not face on the basis of their sex. I was asked to vacate my rented accommodation because I dared to house the aspirations of unemployed and struggling transgender persons in the highest house of the state. Even as an enrolled advocate, I faced transphobia from colleagues at the Bar, who took an oath to uphold the law,” Janakamma says.
She contends, “you can’t work for justice if you have never felt its absence.” She resolves to connect to voters across gender, class, caste, and religious lines by sharing their common feeling of being politically neglected in a developing economy that works for the top 1%.
For equality in East Warangal
About 250 km northeast of Jadcherla, a historical moment is unfolding in the urban political corridors of the East Warangal Assembly constituency. Pushpita Laya Chitrapu (32), a Dalit transgender woman, is contesting on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket to make elections more about its people than politicians. Seated on a bike, Pusphita has taken up the challenge to traverse a road never taken by resisting the dominant caste and gender of her city, with the promise of being the compatriot of the poor and the dispossessed.
When asked what motivated her to plunge into the political arena, she asserts, “throughout my life, I have faced hardships, and I have felt the loneliness of one's struggle not being understood.” Pusphita has been a social worker in East Warangal long before her political dream took shape. She has been a member of BSP for two years, working for the welfare of women, Dalit, and transgender communities in her locality.
“I keep asking people what the local politicians have done to address the rising crimes against women in the constituency. Do they even visit SC (Scheduled Caste) colonies after the elections? Have the youth in the city found sustainable employment?” she asks.
Pushpita tells the voters that her fight is not just political, but is aimed at blowing a new life into Dr B R Ambedkar's vision of people’s equality. In an era where political contests are fought on generational wealth and muscle power, Pusphita’s only currency is her community's goodwill and social work's credibility. When asked what her political agenda for the upcoming election is, Pushpita echoes her dream of a society where no one has to beg to live.
Telangana’s transgender political history
Political analysts and people often forget that transgender persons have fought elections since the formation of Telangana as an independent state in India. In 2014, Domela Mery, a transgender woman, fought the Assembly elections as an independent candidate from Khammam. This was at a time when the news of the Supreme Court of India constitutionally recognising transgender persons in its NALSA v UoI judgement had not percolated as common public knowledge in the state.
Domela Mary’s legacy was continued by a firebrand transgender leader from Hyderabad in 2018. Chandramukhi Muvvala fought as the Bahujan Left Front (BLF) candidate in the Goshamahal Assembly constituency against political bigweights like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Raja Singh and Congress’s Mukesh Gowda.
Transgender persons have never shied away from a political fight. Still, the obstacles they face remain a stark reminder of why the presence of transgender persons in public office has been a few and far between. In the 77 years since Independence, India has only seen one transgender person win elections to a State Assembly. Shabnam Mausi’s win in Sohagpur, Madhya Pradesh, remains the only crack in the gender glass ceiling of Indian State Assemblies, where more than 4.8 lakh (disputed number) transgender persons as recorded in the 2011 Census of India remain underrepresented and undiscussed. It remains to be seen if the people of Telangana vote to unfold history again on November 30 or not.
Vaivab Das is a Fulbright Nehru Doctoral Research Fellow at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. They specialise in Legal Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Views expressed are the author’s own.
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