Why Kalki Subramaniam got a Standing Ovation at Harvard India Conference

Gauri Chandana

Kalki Subramaniam, is an Indian transgender activist, artist, author, actor and inspirational speaker. She is one of the major forces behind Supreme Court legalizing transgender identity in India. First Transsexual actor in India, to lead a major role in an Indian motion picture. She uses poetry and art work for theater performances. She has received numerous awards for her social work and for her literary work in transgender human rights. She was recently chosen by Facebook as one of the 12 most inspiring women of the world, who used Facebook for community development in 2016. Here are some excerpts from her speech that got her a standing ovation at Harvard.

“India is a land of diversity. It has always been a land which in inclusive of all genders, of all sexes and all cultures. Once a country of diversity, once a country of its own beautiful history, with all the mythologies in our country like Ramayana and Mahabharata, celebrating the diversity of gender fluidity, of sexual orientation, now India has produced those beautiful gender fluid people , the transgender people as beggars and sex workers. What was once a country that was celebrating man becoming a woman or a woman becoming man, which you can see in all our sculptures, scriptures, that diversity, that celebration, it was destroyed after the arrival of the British in our country  With their narrow minded politics, law and , values it has definitely destroyed our country. Especially, the criminal tribes act which they brought 200 years ago, that had criminalized almost 33 tribal communities, which includes the transgender people as well. Even after India’s independence, in 1948, that act was scrapped, but the effect of that act is prevalent till today. As a child, born as a boy, I had gone through sever internal confusions. It was difficult for my family to accept gender fluidity. At 13 I told my parents that I wanted to be a woman, but India which celebrates our sons, and not daughters, my mother was not happy about it. She was indeed shattered. At 15 I wanted to commit suicide because I had sever discrimination , and bullying and teasing at school where I studied. Not only by my fellow students, but also by my teachers. At 18 I was sent to a mental health center for a month because they thought it is a disease. My family thought it is some kind of a disorder. But no treatment happened because I don’t have an illness. People are born this way. It was not my choice. It was God’s choice and I am happy about it. I have gone through so many challenges in life. And school if it was about discrimination and bullying, in college it was even more. It was sexual violence against me. And it was so difficult for me to complete my under graduation and post graduation degree. At 13 I had a friend, who was a transgender who had been abandoned by her family. I was a kid who was in search of people like me. I became friends with her. She was indeed a sex worker, must be 20 years old. I was walking with her, along a dark lane because our friendship was not accepted by our families. Suddenly 7 people in an auto-rickshaw, they come very fast, pull her inside the autorickshaw, kidnap her, and take her away. I run home, and I cried that whole night, not sleeping. Next morning I came running towards her house. It was locked. I waited for her, and then she came, with all her clothes torn, she was ripped apart, raped that whole night by seven people. And I told her, lets go to the police. She cried. And I couldn’t control. I cried. And she told me, the police will not help us because I am a sex worker too and they will only question me, not them. So that was when my first anger against the injustice being done to the transgender population. I have witnessed it. And since then, in so many instances of my life I have seen so many , especially the young people commit suicide, being murdered, being raped. Why does that happen in our society, in India? Because a woman is not celebrated, being a transgender or being a woman is a shameful thing. I know almost all of my friends have been disowned by their parents. Have been rejected by their parents and at a young age, they step out of their homes and they begin to live with other transgender people. And what do they do for a living? Begging and sex work and they become the targets of violence, rape, and when they go for sex work, they are prone to get raped and HIV positive, so they become HIV positive, and they die. They have no dreams. And what was their mistake being born this way! I was one of those lucky few people who have been accepted by my parents and my family. I have been one of the very few in India who have been nurtured, educated by a family, and I was privileged. I am very happy that my family accepted me. My parents have a big heart, and I wish that all parents in India had that big heart. If only they had accepted the transgender children, you wouldn’t see the HIV positive ‘hijras’ begging on the street. You wouldn’t see the transgender community standing in line in cities, waiting for clients. If that has to change, India has to accept transgender people. India has to understand that diversity is a beautiful thing, and India is all about diversity. Personally as a transgender woman, at various points in my life it has been a journey with hurdles, but it has also been a journey of joy. Our gender identity, may be a mystery, but it is nothing different at all. I have a heart. I am a woman. I have changed myself medically into a woman. I have a heart of a woman as well. I long for relationship. I long for family, marriage, children. And I think, I have the right to be loved, right to live a dignified life, right to marriage, right to children. And at no cost, I will be ashamed of my gender identity. I am proud of being of transgender. At 25 I decided to start a small organization. It is called Sahodari Foundation. Sahodari means sister. Our organization is small. Since most of the transgender people in India are into begging and sex work, I wanted to change that. For the past 10 years I’ve been lobbying with our government, with the judiciary, with our acamadecians, universities, with our media, so much of hard work for activist people like me. On April 15, 2014, the Indian Supreme court, finally legally recognized transgender people. But law, policy, will that change people’s mindsets? Will that change our families’ mindsets? It will not. It won’t. Our society has to change, and that through our education system , in India, we can change. Our education system in India is so pathetic. T is only about mugging up and memorizing all data. It does not really teach human values. It does not really teach how to respect each other and understand each other and embrace each other and understand that we are all equal. That has to be changed. And we are working on that. As I said, I am not a transgender, that is not me real identity. Is being a woman your identity? That comes as a last. You are an artist, you’re a fashion designer. I am an actor. I act in theater as well as in films. I am an artist. I do paintings, and I sell my paintings and I fund the education of under-privileged transgender women. And I write poetry. I published my first Tamil poetry book, it means ‘Fallace, I cut”. This is going to be soon translated into English as well. And my journey continues, my gender identity, is not me. First of all I am a human being. I am an Indian. I am and artist. I am an activist. I am a writer. And my transgender, or trans-sexual or hijra whatever they call me, is the least I am bothered about. I have written a poem, and I would like to read my poetry. It is actually in Tamil, but I translated it into English.

Fallace, I cut

No transcendal Yoga I performed

to transform myself into a woman

I cut my fallace soiled in blood

And transcending death

I became a woman

Oh you do not ovary

Woman you’re not, said you

Well, Oh STOP

As yu have removed your manhood

You are now a desolate tree

With decayed barks

You have dug the grave of your own linage

Live you may

Till your roots last

The earth that bears you

Shall give up one day

As you have not planted your branches below

Said you

Well, I do not want that ovary

to carry your excretions of caste and religious fanaticism

And I do not want in my ovary

The gestation of those seeds

To grow into a tyrannous tree

Many a woman have carried the seeds of your discriminations

Many a woman wh has carried the seeds of your discrimination

Has made her ovary your lavatory

Luckily, I am not a woman by birth

And that you deny to accept me as a one

Is infact the freedom I got

I do not recite the gyno-grammar you have crafted

Call me an error in nature

And call me what you will

I know myself for sure

Who I am at any given hour

Renouncing the religion

Casting away the cast

We are united as the rejected

Can you live this life we live?

Can you become a woman

Without carrying a womb?

Can you become a daughter

Without sucking your mother’s breast?

I can

Cut the fallace of your chauvinism

Then, and only then

You tell me

That I am not a woman”

And then she got a STANDING OVATION!!!!


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