CHENNAI: In 2014, Grace Banu became the first transgender woman to land an engineering college seat. Banu had previously received her diploma in computer science engineering and was already working at a software company when she decided that she wanted to pursue an engineering degree just to challenge the hostile education system. Though she couldn’t get a seat at a government college, she was able to secure one at a private college in Arakkonam. However, two years since, she is the only transgender engineering student.
“When I was working at the software company, transgenders were fighting for reservation in education institutions and I also took part. I realised while at least some transgenders were being admitted into a few arts and science colleges or diploma courses, no one from our community had the chance to study a professional course,” averred Grace Banu.
She then applied at Anna University and got a seat at a private college in Arakonam. While Banu is mostly treated well by students and teachers, she agreed that some teachers may feel uncomfortable.
“I understand the situation; so I don’t take it to heart. I didn’t mind that they did not give me a seat in a government college or even that it is in Arakkonam, but I wish they had at least arranged for hostel facilities,” she added.
While the transgender student population might be small, their dreams certainly are not. One of these dreamers is 25-year-old Sasha Reddy, who is preparing to study law this year. “I already have a diploma from NIFT and I was doing engineering but had to drop out due to my transformation. But now, I’ve decided to pursue law.”
Sasha told City Express that she was inspired to take up law because as an activist she had realised the difficulty in getting lawyers to fight for their cause. “We can’t even afford to hire one and we always have something to fight for. So I thought it would be so much easier for our community if we had a lawyer among us. I then decided to be that person.”
The ‘third gender’ was officially recognised by the government in 2014. And though the category found its way into college applications and co-ed colleges, there is also the question of all-women colleges accepting transgenders who identify themselves as women. When the principal of a reputed women’s college in the city was asked the question, she replied, “Our college has always been open to transgenders coming in for guest lectures and speeches, but the thought of admitting them as students has never occurred because we do not have a gender section in our application form.”
Would that, at some point, become a reality? “I don’t see why not! For all students, college can be a hard time because of the transition from teens to adults. It might be more difficult for transgenders to be in an all-women college. So it may be more feasible for PG courses. With awareness, things could change drastically and for the better,” she explained.