It is annoying how much control the society can have on an individual’s life. Its perception, its rules, its conventionality matters much more than the liberation and happiness of any person.
Ritushree, 33, a lawyer, LGBTQIA+ rights activists, who lives in Ahmedabad said, “My biggest mistake was denying my identity due to social constraints and making myself suffer for too long.” Ritushree spent her childhood mostly in turmoil, as she knew that she was not what society is telling her to be. She never enjoyed playing with toys which were typically ‘meant for boys’. When she was in 9th standard, she finally realised her true self.
She realised that the body she was born with, a boy’s body was not what she wanted, she was always a girl from her heart. However, she was still not clear with the terms, living in a small town she had no access to the internet. She thought of another way and gained some knowledge from magazines, newspapers on the gender issues. After the completion of her school, she joined a law college, where she got access to the internet. From there, she started doing her research on gender identity and also talked to some queer people online.
Even though she had to go through a lot in order to figure out herself, the societal judgements never ceased to bother her. She even felt guilty for just being herself. All of this pressure and dilemma of what’s right or wrong took a toll on her mental health. She said, “It was traumatic, to be frank. Because the way society treats queer people is very inhuman. Living in a small town, there was probably no one whom I could talk to and share what I was going through. The biggest challenge was how to take it forward and what to do about it now. Many people like me can relate to this point. Most of all it was before the verdict came on Section 377, so it was too difficult to meet people who’d understand me. I tried to come out to a few friends but whenever I did that, their transphobic views pushed me back again.”
Even though some people know about Ritushree’s gender identity, she has not come out to her friends and colleagues at work. She initiated the conversation at her home by denying to marry, her sister supported her with that. However, when her sister asked if she was gay, Ritu denied and said that she is not straight either. Later, Ritu told her sister about being a transwoman, to which her sister was supportive and even stood with her while confronting the family about the same.
“The fight for equality is never-ending. I constantly write about issues affecting the LGBTQIA+ community. Equal representation and rights at the workplace for them is important as it should for anyone. On the Transgender Day of Visibility, 2021, I launched a campaign for Ungender forms where we identified companies who on their platforms are not providing gender options for trans and non-binary people. The campaign had some positive results, a couple of those companies are working on it to make their platforms more inclusive,” she said.
She also mentioned talking to her friend Richa Singh who is the Diversity and Inclusion head of Max Life Insurance, about the idea of making the platform inclusive of non-binary people, to which she happily accepted. They were able to see the changes within a month, now along with the option of Male and Female, they have the option of Transgender on their customer platform. Apart from this, Ritushree's central focus is on the national legal services authority judgment recommendation on the reservation for transgender persons in job and education.
She said, “It has been seven years but still the rights promised by the Supreme Court have not been granted by the government. There are many activists like Grace Banu who are fighting for it on the ground. What I can do at the least, I am doing it, in the form of writing articles and building social media campaigns for the rights of my community that they deserve.” Ritushree has written many articles to create awareness about LGBTQIA+ rights.
“99 per cent of workplaces in India are transphobic. People just casually use slurs like “Chhakka” and “Bich Ka” and all that without any remorse. For them, it is a joke. People don’t like to work with trans people so they have stereotyped jobs for them even in an inclusive organisation. First, they do not provide jobs and if at all they provide, they just typecast them. How many trans people do you see in big corporate posts? Even in the inclusive organisation, how many Trans people are there as Diversity and Inclusion Lead? In India, inclusion for many organisations is nothing but pinkwashing. There are truly good companies and I am not denying that but the overall situation is too bad and transphobic,” she added.
Ritushree had a confusing childhood and growing up she was battling with herself and her identity, which she says was living a dual life. She has no happy memory of her childhood, it was various painful memories topped by the grief of losing her mother when she was a teenager. She said, “I wish she was there in my battle because she was one of my biggest strengths. I think my life would have been different had she been with me.”