Ravi Amma and Dutee Chand show it's ok to be sexually different in India now

Though the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 was passed in the Lok Sabha to prohibit sexual discrimination, ostracism continues.

Published: 18th August 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th August 2019 04:51 PM   |  A+A-

Dutee Chand

Dutee Chand (Photo | EPS)

It’s ok to be sexually different in India now. Section 377 was scrapped last year. Transgender Rights Bill has been approved by the Cabinet. Transgender politicians and priests are changing history, giving hope to India’s 4.9 lakh transgender population.

Faith Transcends Gender

The legend of Shikhandini, who exchanged her gender with a yaksha and became Shikhandi, is a seminal allegory of a warrior’s strength. Though the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 was passed in the Lok Sabha to prohibit sexual discrimination, ostracism continues.

But there are redeeming cases, too. For 12 years, transgender Ravi Amma has been the head priestess at the Thiruvengatamudayan Krishnamaari Amman Temple in Old Washermenpet, which draws over 100 devotees every day.

After dropping out of school, she spent hours cleaning small roadside shrines and dressing the deities; objections of the shrine keepers were silenced by her devotion.

By the time Ravi Amma was 16, she had learnt the art of being a priestess: draping the idol’s saris, performing rituals, chanting shlokas and offering darshan.

‘‘I have no guru. I observed what other priests did and absorbed it all,’’ she says. When the priest of the temple where she works now retired, Ravi Amma took his place. She had endeared herself to worshipers and patrons alike with impressive arrangements for Kumba Abhishekam.

She is convinced that members of the transgender community will be accepted on the basis of faith. ‘‘People have faith in god and here, in my community, people had the heart to understand that I am a person dedicated to god,’’ she says.

In the Tamil Sangam period, Maari Amman temples had priestesses. Ravi Amma has installed an Amman deity at her temple, with donations from locals, and renamed the temple Krishna Mariamman temple.‘‘The temple is open for all.’’

Owning up to Choice

Gay sportsmen in the West get equal respect as others, including the women.

But when star athlete Dutee Chand went public about her sexuality, all hell broke loose at home in Chhak Gopalpur, a sleepy, conservative village of weavers in Jajpur district of Odisha.

But the country’s first openly gay athlete did not yield to the criticism that followed, both by her family and public.

Two months later on July 9, she became the first Indian woman track and field athlete to win gold medal in the 100 m dash event at World Universiade in Napoli—her first international gold.

“I spoke about my relationship at a time when the country is opening up about LGBTQ relationships and the Supreme Court had decriminalised homosexuality.

Everyone has a right to choose his or her partner and so do I in this democratic country,” says the unapologetic sportswoman who found support from celebrities and LGBTQ activists throughout the world.

With two months to go for the World Championship, Dutee spends six hours practising at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar, under the guidance of coach N Ramesh. And does she want to take her relationship a step ahead? “Not for another five years,” she smiles.


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