“I Cannot Be a Jewel in Somebody Else’s Crown”




“When I was in crowded courtroom trying to hear the judges read out their judgment, it was a very special moment. I was standing there and hearing a judgment about my life. Coming out of that room victorious was a moment of great pride for me. I felt fortunate to be living and seeing history happen in front of me,” human rights activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi told The Peacock. She had filed the second intervention application in the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) v. Union of India case of 2014, a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of India which declared transgender people to be an official ‘third gender’ restoring their dignity and equality as Indian citizens.
Kinnars – or the third gender – have been recorded from antiquity in Indian culture and mythology. They have always organised communities that support familial and instructional relationships, while also being ascribed with a demi-god status that implies the potential power to curse and/or bless people at important occasions. And yet, their position in society has been denigrated to the margins, with discrimination settling in after they were labelled as criminals in 1871, in a British colonial decision that grouped the Kinnars with ‘dangerous tribes’. Even now, judicial and social efforts are still paving the way to correct cultural anomalies and historical injustices levied on the Kinnar community.
Telling us that obvious change can be registered since 2014 and especially after the 2018 Supreme Court judgment, a vivacious Tripathi – who was at NFDC’s Film Bazaar to attend a session on ‘The Multiple Hues of the LGBT Narrative in India – added, “after the decriminalisation of Indian Penal Code’s Section 377, there has been a certain change in the right direction, but I believe there is a need for even more drastic improvements. We cannot move ahead only with tokenism. I cannot be a jewel in somebody else’s crown. Even my community deserves a crown for themselves.”
Tripathi told us, “now people are not scared to talk about us. This issue has a viewership. Now people want to help us. And now I say, save us from the saviours. We are able to help ourselves and have taken care of ourselves for as long as history exists. Those who want to come to our rescue want to show us in a particular way. But that’s not true, we are normal people living a normal life.”
During the session at Film Bazaar, Tripathi said that skilling, and mainstreaming Kinnars into the industry is important to change the mindset of the masses. She said, “a sensitive film can make our life easier because it will sensitising people about us. If a film imposes a stereotyped portrayal of a transgender it is regressive and only makes things worse for us by adding to the stigma. Films like Tamanna (1997) and regional films in Marathi are some good instances of sensitive films. But why should the onus lie only on regional cinema. Mainstream filmmakers too should also portray the community in a way that normalises our depiction. If Kinnars can act, then why not take them as leads in films.
I want films to speak about our routine emotional lives. These aspects are not spoken about or represented.”
Next year, Tripathi has promised to send at least a dozen members from her community as volunteers for Film Bazaar. She feels that only by intermingling and working together can the alienation around Kinnars be reduced, and public perception about them normalised. She told us, “things will improve, and one hopes for a greater sharing of ideas that will build sensitisation about our community. We must remember that Rome was not built in a day.”


Read more from The Peacock: Issue 7 (2019) here: