By Syed Altefat Hossain
SIRAJGANJ, Jan 30, 2021 (BSS) – A 12-year-old “girly boy” suddenly identified “he” or “she” was unlike others around in the family and the community, a fact that exposed her to a state of wilderness and the family to a social stigma.
The crude reality eventually prompted the child to give her up to the fate, leaving the home for good to free the family from the stigma and humiliation caused by his or her gender crisis.
“This was painful . . . but a pressing necessity for me to flee my own home to save my family from being stigmatised further . . . I decided it will be best for all if I quit my home,” said Pori Moni who later preferred to be identified by this name.
“I guess the pain was unendurable for my family as well after I fled my home.”
Pori Moni even did not reach the age to be treated as a teenager, a time when she even thought of committing suicide to evade an inhuman life but eventually decided to flee the home at a village in northwestern Ullapara.
She later found a group of transgender people who welcomed her in their troupe which earn money by singing and dancing and at times performing folk plays known as Jatra.
Pori, as she is called by others in the transgender community, is now 18 but after long six years of languishing virtually a street life, she now has an abode herself thanks to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Asrayan Prokolpo.
Nonetheless, this shelter is not mere a postal address for Pori, rather it provided her a long cherished dignity, social security and sense of pride as a human being.
She has started living at a house of four semi-pacca barracks with five units constructed on 0.66 acres of land under ‘Hatikumrul Third Gender (Hijra) Asrayan Prokalpa’ along with 50 members of 20 families.
On January 23, Sheikh Hasina handed over the barracks to the transgender families coinciding with Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s birth centenary celebrations.
This was part of the rehabilitation campaign for the vulnerable people under the Asrayan Prokolpo’s second phase under which 3,715 families were provided shelters in 743 barracks at 36 upazilas in 21 districts during the ‘Mujib Year’.
Another 66,189 families also received their shelters having separate structures under the government initiative on the same day.
Despite their presence in thousands, the transgender people, known as “Hijra” in Bangladesh and in regions around, the community is largely rejected by their families.
The government estimates there are 11,000 hijras in Bangladesh but rights groups say the figure could be as high as half a million most of whom live in slum areas and subsist on odd jobs including sex trade.
They are socially barred from schools and in most cases turned down for work so many take to the streets and demand money from roadside shopkeepers and pedestrians, often using abusive language if refused alms.
Like Pori Moni many of these transgender children are banished from their families even before becoming teenagers to remain one of the most marginalised social groups though Bangladesh officially recognized them as a third gender in 2013 and provided them voting rights in 2019.
“Until I was about seven I didn’t know that I wasn’t a girl. My family treated me as a boy and beat me regularly because I used to act more like a girl than a boy,” Pori said.
The realization of her gender crisis at one point exposed her to extreme agonies and at times “I felt I should commit suicide” before joining the transgender community, who at least gave her sense of comradeship though the group itself had no social dignity or security.
“No house owner wanted us as tenants . . . I now won’t have to depend on anybody’s mercy for my shelter,” she said.
Pori said once she dreamt of being an actress and lead a social life with her family.
“We, however, started seeing afresh dream of leading a social life with dignity as our affectionate Prime Minister arranged for us the housing facilities . . . I am grateful, very grateful” she said.
“We wish your sound and long life (Sheikh Hasina)”.
A compatriot of Pori, Full, left her house while she was 13 but possibly the social stigma debars her to recall the painful memory.
“Actually I was forced to leave my home as the people of the society could not accept us like others. My family members, especially siblings, used to get ashamed for me,” she said.
Maya Guru, 31, who is acting as a leader of the transgender community in the barrack, also fled her home about 20 years ago as she could not endure the humiliation by the people around.
“Hijras face abuse everywhere — teasing, tirades, beatings, sexual violence — because people consider us abnormal and cursed,” she said.
Maya, however, feels the social attitude was changing “slowly, very slowly” since their recognition as third gender.
She urged other transgender people to come to lead a normal life responding to the premier’s initiatives and said they would help others to be integrated into the mainstream community by slowly diminishing the gaps and discriminatory attitudes.
“The transgender people rehabilitated here have been getting government and private fund for rearing cows and goat and poultry and pigeons farming along with cultivating vegetables,” the Asrayan Prokalpa-2 Project Director Md Mahbub Hossain said at a briefing here.
“All of the transgender people will be rehabilitated in phases.”
According to the official apart from Hatikumrul project, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has implemented another project for rehabilitating more 125 third gender families at Sadar upazila of Dinajpur district at Transgender Palli adjacent to Bangi Becha Bridge under the ‘Asrayan Prokalpa-2’.
The transgender people virtually received the premier’s direct personal blessings when a delegation of theirs met her on Sept 16, 2018 and joined a photo shooting session with her as well.
Transgender Abida Islam Moyuri led the team at the premier’s Sangsad
Bhaban office and witnesses said the meeting as an emotional interaction.
“Yes you are my child,” Sheikh Hasina said at that time while Moyuri in an
emotion choked voice asked her to accept her as her own child.