Harshini’s story is one of courage and strength. Growing up in a small village of Balusupada in Andhra’s Krishna district, Harshini was born with a male body but with a woman’s heart.
“When I was only five, I loved to wear my sister’s clothes but my parents forced me to grow up as a boy knowing that I was neither a boy nor a girl physically. My heart was that of a girl, and it would hurt me so much to behave like a boy even at that young age,” Harshini told SheThePeople.TV.
While her farmer father detested her, her mother — a daily wage labourer — gave her the love she desperately needed to grow up. Home was a place of comfort, but when she took admission in school, she faced constant bullying and teasing from the village children.
“I did not like going to the school wearing boys clothes at all, but my mother used to pacify me, saying that for the world I will have to look like a boy. When I was growing up and was about 11 or 12 years old, I realized that I was indeed a girl but was born in a wrong body. The kids around me would comment and bully me. Once when I was going to the tuition in 7th standard, a boy called me ‘Chakka’ and I was distraught.”
That day Harshini came back from her tuition and told her mother that she never wanted to go out again.
While growing up, she remained inside her home for most part because she feared that if she went out, she would have to face the trauma again. What she enjoyed most was studying.
“I would cry every night to sleep because I used to think that there was no one who looked like me or talked like me because I had no knowledge or awareness about the word transgender or the community that we have,” said Harshini. She added that at home she would do all household chores and would even cook for her family from a young age.
After a lot of suffering and harassment from all corners, Harshini still managed to start her college life.
Again, she did not want to go to her college as a boy. But her family discouraged her from doing so. “When I joined college, I was subjected to abusive behaviour. It was my mother’s dream to see me well educated and independent. With her moral support, I persevered. I got my post graduate degree—MA in Economics. But by then, I had lost both my parents. When I lost my mother, I realised how much I loved her and she was the only one who understood and accepted me for who I am. During this time, I went through depression and attempted suicide as well. But luckily I survived.”
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In college, Harshini also realized that she started having feelings for boys. This is when she promised herself that she would change her body and become a girl physically as well. During this time, she met other transgenders, who told her that surgery can change her into a woman. She felt extremely happy and ran away from home to come to Mumbai. However, her dreams shattered. In Mumbai, she came face to face with the brutal reality of how transgenders live a normal life. She was asked to beg and do sex work to sustain herself.
“I stayed only for two days in Mumbai and when I heard all this, I cried a lot thinking I did not study so much to lead the life of a beggar,” said Harshini.
Being a transgender, Harshini did not just face hateful behaviour from the outside world, but also at her own home. Her father did not pay for her to study in private colleges, while her brothers went to a good university. She had to complete her studies in a government school and colleges.
After her mother died, Harshini knew that now she couldn’t stay in her village. So she again moved to Mumbai, but this time with the sole purpose of earning enough to get a sex change operation. With her knowledge and degrees, she joined an NGO to survive and saved up enough money to get her operation done in 2014. But after her surgery, her community again started forcing her to become a sex worker.
“I wanted to do something different, support my family but I did not want to do it by doing sex work,” she said. The only choice was to work in an NGO. She did apply to companies many times, but after the initial proceedings, she wouldn’t get the job because the firms didn’t want to recruit a transgender person.
Winds of change
However, Harshini’s life changed when a multi-national company called her up with a job opportunity.
She is now working as an Executive Assistant there. “The company has been supportive and has encouraged me to do my best and learn new things. The team I work with has been very supportive as well and has accepted me for who I am. The atmosphere in the company is very welcoming as well, and I do not feel differentiated at all. Everyone treats me like a friend. This encourages me to do more and I now believe that I will be able to achieve my ambitions,” said Harshini.
“People even today don’t have much knowledge about transgenders, which is why the society discriminates against us. However, after the historic Supreme Court judgment scrapping Section 399, I feel change would come and the society will try to become more forthcoming towards our gender as well.”
Her employer, Ramesh Nair, CEO & Country Head, India, JLL, has welcomed Harshini in his company. He said, “We extended our diversity agenda to include transgenders because we believed that was a segment that was perhaps marginalized and disadvantaged in our society through discrimination and abuse. The top management was involved in the selection process and we would like to add that the selection of the candidate was on the basis of her abilities. Once the selection process was done, we conducted a few ‘sensitising sessions’ for the immediate manager and teammates. We are very happy with the judgment. However, it is just a step, gender inclusivity requires a lot of hand holding and support and we are happy to make a small difference there through our organisation policies.”
Harshini has also participated in Miss Transqueen India, and has been selected as a contender.
Harshini’s life journey teaches us that if you extend opportunities to everyone and become gender inclusive, then every person — regardless of their gender — has the potential to excel. Transgenders even today have to resort to sex work and begging because the society does not extend a welcoming hand towards them. We all need to come together to become inclusive and supportive of all members of society. Only then will there be true change.