At the end of 2017, an important book by Dr. Aijaz Bund on the transgender community set off a series of limited conversations in the media about the community’s abject conditions and struggles in the conflict-ridden Indian-administered Kashmir. Almost a year later, Free Press Kashmir revisits the ignored community to reveal the coming of age experience of a 19-year-old transgender named Mohsina.
Her transition from Mohsin, her name by birth, to Mohsina, her name by choice, reveals the difficulties faced by the third gender people in Kashmir, soon after hitting the stage of self-discovery and self-making.
In Kashmir, life for the third gender is not only set with trials and tribulations, but tormented by societal scorn. They aren’t subjects of mere intrigue, but people, bestowed with beautiful and quaint qualities along with courage. Some have found themselves being accepted by their families, and some unfortunately have not.
When at 12, Moshin started behaving like Mohsina, her parents were left shell-shocked.
Mohsin was a boy’s name that her parents had given her, but Mohsina was the name she has chosen for herself.
She feels she is a girl trapped in a boy’s body and in a world full of prejudice, she dreams to be treated as an equal by others and to be free from the shackles of an identity that is not openly accepted in a traditional society.
Mohsina was born and raised in Srinagar. She is about to graduate and has high hopes of flying an aircraft as a professional pilot someday. Due to the constraints around her, she fears that such a day might not arrive at all, but she’s hopeful.
“Hope is the only lucky charm against despair,” Mohsina, 19, says. She wishes that people one day will allow the trans-community into its fold, away from the confines of established margins.
In her struggles, however, Mohsina seeks to find general respect accorded on equal terms to everyone in a traditional society and she hopes that people will cease to infringe upon the community’s rights.
Sensing that, Mohsina turns fretful once becoming conscious of her gender in a society that is traditionally heteronormative.
“I was too young to be heartbroken,” she sighs. “It takes courage to live with the knowledge that one is different.”
In conversation under confidentiality to not reveal her face in photographs, Mohsina says she kept the truth about her identity under cover for many years, even to herself.
During that period of denial, her emotions began to harden and she mustered enough courage to seek guidance from people of the third gender. While looking out of her window, she remembers, “I found solace in their company. My intuition told me that I belonged with them and they belong with me.”
But that sense of longed-for comfort came to an abrupt end when some people from her neighborhood reported her meetings with transgender people to her parents.
“I can only imagine what such revelations might have done to them. They had high hopes pinned on me, being their only child and coming to terms with the fact that I was different must have been difficult,” she says.
Mohsina believes that making her dreams come true is not as much a problem for her parents, as to be accepted as a ‘different’ person in her society.
Because of her appearance and way of being in the world, she’s differently measured and treated.
To her, such stigmatizing treatment is not only disabling but also limits her in her constant need to be accepted. She has come to understand by her own experience that the perception of the third gender in the society is completely ‘wrong, biased and prejudiced’ when it comes to basic values of gender equality.
Mohsina’s struggles do not revolve only around a question of acceptance by the society she inhabits, but several family members and relatives of the third genders like her seem to have hesitations in accepting them as well. She thanks God that her family has come to terms with her identity.
“In the first years my family used to react horribly,” Mohsina recalls. “They used to put sedatives in my beverages without my knowledge. The mental torture was above the roof. My mother used to wail and weep. My father would sigh with disappointment just by looking at me.”
Her parents, she says, were subjected to societal scorn because of her identity, and as a result she was put under “house arrest”.
Looking back, she reflects on how her parents thought they would avoid confronting “her truth” by confining her to the walls of her house “simply because they wanted to save me from what I was”.
“What they didn’t know was that there was no saving me from what I was because I did not need saving, only acceptance,” Mohisa says. “They wanted to save themselves from the ache of watching me tread that path due to a preconceived and naive notion in society fomented against people like me.”
Years later, Mohsina now works as a part-time matchmaker. But the trade is hardly reliable anymore. It’s almost heading towards extinction, given the widespread use of the internet and social media. Some of the young transgenders are finding jobs at local beauty parlors now. Some own bridal clothing shops and some work in the age-old profession of singing at weddings.
Mohsina regards Shabnam Subhan as her mentor, who’s living up to that title by disapproving her from smoking hookah, just as a parental figure would.
Shabnam considers Mohsina as her child and takes responsibility to equip her with the harsh realities of an unwelcoming world.
The bond that all the members of the transgender community share in the Kashmir valley transcends their gender identity and is instead built on empathy, compassion and care for one another’s well being.
But in her early forties, Shabnum herself struggles to survive in the society. Her story is another disturbing reality of the battered community, left tormented by perceptions and biases.
To be continued…
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