Panjab University’s transgender students still await response to demand for separate hostels

Dhananjay Chauhan, a PhD student, who was one of the main forces behind the struggle for separate bathrooms, claims that she had visited the office of the Dean to inquire about the status of separate hostels but was not given a reasonable answer.

Panjab University established itself as arguably the first university in the world to build separate washrooms on its premises for transgender students in 2016, however, three years on, the community’s demand for separate hostel facilities on the campus remains left in the lurch.

Dhananjay Chauhan, a PhD student, who was one of the main forces behind the struggle for separate bathrooms, claims that she had visited the office of the Dean of University Instruction (DUI) to inquire about the status of separate hostels but was not given a reasonable answer. DUI Shankarji Jha is the head of the committee which was formed to look into the matter of separate hostels for transgender students.

“We have always supported the community and have provided them with the facilities they have demanded. We are also working to fulfill the demand for separate hostels. We have sent out letters to different universities in India, asking them for their policy on the same. Let’s see what they say,” said Varsha Luthra from the DUI office at the university.

However, Dhananjay contends the university’s decision to consult its counterparts. “There is no point in sending letters to other universities because they do not have any policy regarding this. PU had set precedence by establishing separate toilets. Now, they should set another precedence by making separate hostels,” said Dhananjay, who believes much has been done by the university to support the transgender community, but there is much more to be done to ensure that more transgender students are encouraged to attend PU.

According to data published by the National Human Rights Commission in 2018, 99 per cent of the transgender population in India faced at least one incident of social rejection in their lives. Further, 92 per cent of transgenders in India were deprived of participating in any kind of economic activity. The scenario is far from empowering in terms of allowing social and economic assimilation of transgenders into the mainstream.

“In a way we are migrants, just like other vulnerable groups that go from place-to-place, seeking livelihood. A lot of us do not have the support of our family. So the first thing we need when we leave our home is shelter. We do not have enough means to afford a PG here. Moreover, there is always a fear of social boycott,” said Oishin Sarkar, a postgraduate student from Panjab University, who also identifies as a transgender.

The Transgender Protection of Rights Bill, 2019, states that “every educational institution funded or recognised by the appropriate government shall provide inclusive education and opportunities” to its students. Two years ago, a transgender student named Divya allegedly left PU because she could not afford to live outside the campus, thus, returned to the hijra tradition of begging. “One way to feel included is by asking for institutional rights such as hostel facilities, but the other is to make sure that we remain present and visible. We should occupy public space with pride, as I do at the university,” said Dhananjay.

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