First Transgender Boarding School Opens In India

The goal, says activists, is to give the students "security, stability and salvation."

The first boarding school for transgender students in India is opening today in Kochi in the southeast part of the subcontinent.

DHAKA, BANGLADESH - NOVEMBER 10:  A Hijra, or transgender, gets ready backstage before the Hijra talent show, part of the first ever event called Hijra Pride 2014, on November 10, 2014 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  In 2013 Bangladesh officially recognized Hijras as a third gender, though homosexuality still remains illegal. Despite these strides Hijras continue to face violence and harassment as part of their daily life in Bangladesh. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
Allison Joyce/Getty Images

The inaugural class at Sahaj International School will have just 10 students, who will study under six trans instructors from the TransIndia Foundation. Activist and artist Kalki Subramaniam will speak at the opening day ceremony.

Students were selected from different areas of society, and include a migrant worker and a disabled person.

“In the beginning, we have a few sponsors supporting us. We are planning to seek financial help from government after proving its worthiness,” school organizer Vijayaraja Mallika told the Indian Express.

The goal, says Mallika, is to give the students “security, stability and salvation.”

Hijra Pride Festival 2014 Held in Bangladesh
Getty Images

Support has come not just from India’s National Open School program but from teachers, social workers and a Christian charity that recognizes the unique hardships faced by trans people. While hijras have been a part of the country’s heritage for centuries, they face discrimination and even violence, and are often forced into begging or sex work to survive.

Since India recriminalized homosexuality in 2013, physical, psychological and sexual violence against the transgender community has increased, though the police frequently don’t investigate charges. In 2014, the country’s Supreme Court legally recognized the identities of transgender citizens, and “affirmed that they should not be discriminated against on the basis of gender identity or expression.”

A bill introduced in India’s Parliament would codify the ruling, with access to financial aid, a prohibition on employment discrimination, and a 2% quota for government and education jobs.

“Though physically fit, transgenders face discrimination at every step of their lives with no job opportunities, access to education or avenues to lead a normal life,” said MP Tiruchi Siva, who sponsored the measure. “This bill seeks to correct this and pave the way for their social acceptance.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.