KOZHIKODE: The first transgender judge of a Lok Adalat, the first transgender college student in Malappuram, the first transgender student to take part in the University of Calicut C-zone fest, a member of Kerala State Human Rights Commission as well as Malappuram Justice Board and a participant of Kerala Fashion League, Riya Isha has countless feathers in her cap.The first year BA Economics student of Government College in Malappuram is now not just a popular figure in her college, but has become a well-known face in the district.
In an interview with Express, Riya, who hails from Koorachundu in Kozhikode, shares the bitter-sweet journey she has had since leaving for Bengaluru to pursue her higher studies in fashion designing. “Initially, I had to face a lot of criticism and insults from my friends and college mates in the city. This was something I was not used to,” she said. “Though I struggled with my gender identity for a long period, I later on opened up to my family members who suggested I consult a doctor or attend counselling sessions,” she said.
After working for a while in Ernakulam in the fashion field, Riya shifted to Malappuram with the aim of creating more transgender visibility and spreading awareness on gender issues. “I also received a job as a para legal volunteer at the Manjeri District Court. Initially, people at work advised me to return to Bengaluru and said Malappuram was not a place for transgenders. But, over a period of time, they accepted me,” she said.
For the 26-year old, one of the crucial decisions of her life was enrolling in the Arts and Science college for a degree course in 2018. Since the state government rule mandates two reserved seats in all Arts and Science colleges for transgenders, Riya had initially encouraged her peers to join colleges and complete their studies.“However, many were unwilling to enrol for higher education. So, I felt if I join an institution and pursue higher studies, it might encourage more people like me to step out of their shells,” she said.
Over the past one year, Riya has been instrumental in including transgenders into sports events at the University of Calicut and in setting up toilet facilities for transpersons at her college. Asked about her experience in taking part in the university C-zone Arts festival, under the transgender category, Riya replied, “The organisers asked me if I could participate under the women’s category, which I did not agree to. If 10 years down the line another transgender student joins the university and wants to take part in the fest, the person should be able to participate under the transgender category,” she added.
Riya, who is now on a path to ensure transgender visibility in more districts, is planning to switch to an autonomous college in Kozhikode to pursue her second year. Her interest lies in serving the society and bringing about a change.