In 2015, Panjab University (PU) became one of the first universities in India to introduce the ‘third gender’ column in its admission form. A month back, PU fulfilled another initiative for transgender rights by installing the first separate toilet for transgender students in the campus.
There was a demand for separate toilets for transgender students in 2016 when the first transgender student, Dhananjay Chauhan Mangalmukhi, 46, took admission for the Master of Human Rights and Duties course at PU. She has been working hard to alleviate the plight of transgenders and is also a founder of a non-governmental organistion (NGO), Saksham Trust.
Despite being a transgender, Dhananjay was not comfortable using the boys’ or the girls’ toilet but had no other choice.”It was very confusing for me to choose which washroom to use. If I went to the boys’ washroom they used to stare at me, lock me inside the washroom or pass very bad comments. If I used the girls’ washroom, they used to be scared of me as they saw me as a male due to my physical features,” She said.
“But is this my fault if my assigned sex and gender do not match? Am I not a human being? Do I not have basic needs like a toilet or education?” Dhananjay asked while narrating her struggle for a separate toilet for transgender students.
She wrote an application to the PU authorities, ten days after getting admission in the campus in November 2016 for a separate washroom for transgenders. Having introduced the ‘third gender’ column in its admission forms, the university authorities didn’t show hesitation in accepting Dhananjay’s application.
Her efforts bore fruit after the PU authorities in the same year allocated Rs 23 lakh for the construction of four toilets for transgender students. The first washroom for transgender students became operational in December 2017 near the students’ corner known as “Stu C”. The remaining three washrooms are under construction and are expected to be completed by July 2018.
“The proposal for separate toilets for transgender students was passed in 2016 but it took one-and-a-half-years for it to become operational. No one can imagine what I have gone through. When I joined PU in 2016, I was already struggling with my own insecurities and inner turmoil over my gender identity. I was the first transgender student in the university so there was no one I could share the problems I was going through with. People used to look at me as if I am an alien on this planet,” Dhananjay said.
She said in 2016 she was the only transgender student in PU but now there are four more transgender students in the university. “It took me 23 years to get my masters degree under my real identity which is neither male or female. But I don’t want this to happen to any other trans men or women”.
Dhananjay said if you want something in life, you need to speak out. “You have to choose and fight your own battles. After getting legal recognition for our community from the Supreme Court, our reincarnation happened. This is the first step towards our basic rights but we have miles to go,” she said. “I am opening doors for other transgenders. We are coming out of the gloomy life. We can also set our aim just like others. We can also achieve our dreams” she added.
Dhananjay said after having finally got a toilet for transgender students in the university, their struggle for other facilities in the campus will continue. She said besides demanding separate hostel for transgender students, a demand for fee concession for them has been made to the PU authorities.
“As it’s the case with a toilet, we need a hostel for third gender students. As the number of third gender students is just five at the moment, authorities can at least provide us separate rooms or a block in existing hostels. We are not asking for special treatment, all we want is equality which is a basic right. As far as the concession in university fees is concerned, it will help in uplifting transgender persons as they too can come out in the open and get access to quality education for leading a normal life,” Dhananjay said.
She believes their struggle for equality will continue. “There is life outside the university as well. We face the same problem outside as well. Now I am working towards it. At least, there should be one toilet for us as well in public areas like bus stands. My fight is not for sexuality, but for identity,” Dhananjay said.
PU is already considering implementing a slew of measures to give transgender students equal opportunities. Besides examining the issue for inclusion of a representative of transgender students in the PU Committee against Sexual Harassment, PU authorities intend to provide hostel facilities to transgender students.