CHENNAI:They are ridiculed, kept away and discriminated against. But have transgenders always been treated like outcastes? In an effort to prove that the community of the third gender has an equal place in society along with the men and women, a noted transgender activist has began poring through the historical documents and archaeological evidence, which would be part of a documentary that is in the making.
According to Priya Babu, writer and transgender activist, the world knows very little about the community, their history or roots. To change this perception, Priya is working on a documentary film titled Inam (race), for which she has sought help from Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department.
“There is evidence to show the existence of transgenders in the 15th century. There are sculptures of transgenders in the temples in Tamil Nadu. But I want to prove that the origin of transgenders is not a sudden event, but they are a well-established community dating back to the Sangam Period in 2nd century BC.
“The effort was triggered by the mention about transgenders in the earliest grammar book in Tamil Literature Tolkappiyam. It defines transgenders as ‘third gender’. There are several mentions about this gender in works like Silapathigaram. However, there is no strong documented information so far about the community, as none thought about tracing this community,” she said.
Officials from archaeological department, who are helping Priya to trace ethnographic evidence from the Sangam Period, said they were focusing on the documents from Chola kingdom. “It was her query on this that first led us to trace the history of the community. As Chola dynasty was one of the longest ruling dynasties in the history of Southern India, we believe there could be me some information about transgenders from places that came under the kindom. However, there has not been any progress despite searching for it for six months,” said an official.
One of the troubles that the experts face is the lack of knowledge about the specific term used for transgenders during Sangam Period.
“Chola kings are known for exhaustive documentation. So, if the transgender community was prominent at that point of time, there should be some documentation about them,” added the official.
Priya has not lost hope though. She has given herself a year to finish the documentary. “If I get documented information, it would change society’s perspective about transgenders. We would then be able to explain how the discrimination begun, the reason for it, etc. By making society aware of us, our culture and history, we can change the mindset of the people,” she added.