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India’s Transgender Community Gets Voice in Laya Maria Jaison

Abhivad |
The Kerala State Committee of DYFI has elected the first transgender woman.
Laya Maria Jaison receiving DYFI membership in 2019

Laya Maria Jaison receiving DYFI membership in 2019

Thiruvananthapuram: Transgenders in India have always been sidelined due to successive governments and political parties doing scant to eradicate the stigma, discrimination and rights violation against the community. 

The community has now got a ray of hope in Laya Maria Jaison, the first transgender woman elected to the Kerala State Committee of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI). Hailing from Changanacherry, Kottayam, Jaison was elected to the left-wing youth organisation at its state conference held from April 27 to 30 in Pathanamthitta. 

In an interview with Newsclick, Jaison, who worked her way up at the DYFI right from the unit to the state committee, shares her views on transgender issues and Left politics and her activities with the DYFI.

The DYFI has always ensured to ensure participation of transgenders in the day-to-day activities of the organisation since 2015, Jaison says. “In 2015, the DYFI formed a transgender unit in Thiruvananthapuram. I felt it was a genuine effort—the first in the state by a mainstream youth organisation to ensure the inclusion of transgender people. This attracted many from the community, including myself.” 

Though she was not a member of the unit, it was one of the reasons for Jaison’s later association with the organisation. “Many of my friends were active in this exclusive unit for transgender people. At present, most of them work in other fractions of the organisation as they are well integrated into the organisation.”  

After her acquaintance with the organisation, Jaison considered getting involved in DYFI’s organisational work from her native place Changanacherry. She became a member of the organisation in 2019 inaugurating the membership campaign in Ithiithanam-Thuruthy Local Committee. Later, she was elected to the Changanacherry Block Committee and Kottayam District Committee of the DYFI. 

The Kottayam district conference held in April elected Jaison as a delegate to the state conference. Including her, three other transgender delegates were elected to the conference. She participated in the general discussion at the state conference representing the Kottayam district delegation. 

“I could raise the transgender issues in the discussion as part of the state conference before delegates. The support and solidarity we get from the organisation are commendable. The organisation is always committed to addressing the issues of the transgender community and the leadership is also very keen to ensure the involvement of its transgender members in general issues and activities as well,” she says.

Working in Thiruvananthapuram as a computer assistant at Economic Empowerment Hub for Transgender People, a project under the Social Welfare Board, Jaison says there is a lot more to do when it comes to general awareness regarding transgender issues and material support for the deprived community. 

“The social stigma towards the transgender community has not been erased completely. A significant section of society still believes in gender binaries and treats transgender people as outcasts,” Jaison says. “We had to raise our voice as loudly as we could to make society acknowledge our existence. But we are still far from achieving acceptance. Representation in platforms like DYFI, a mainstream organisation with wide acceptance, would go a mile or two towards this goal.”

According to Jaison, the formation of the Transgender Cell, under the Social Justice Department, Kerala, in 2018, has ensured better resolution to community issues. Many welfare schemes, including education scholarships, Samanwaya (an education programme), aid for hostel facilities and financial aid for sex reassignment surgery, were also introduced for transgenders. 

For the education of transgender people, the government provides a scholarship of Rs 2,000 per month in addition to Rs 4,000 per month for hostel aid. The state government provides up to Rs 2.5 lakh to transgender women and up to Rs 5 lakh to men for sex reassignment, she adds.

The social stigma is one of the reasons for the excessive unemployment among the transgender community. Jaison believes that the government should employ more transgenders, which would help erase the stigma, in addition to providing them a secure livelihood. “We have demanded reservation for the transgender community in government jobs. We already have a reservation system in place for transgender students in colleges.” She expects to earn the DYFI’s support to further demand.

Jaison also stresses the need for sex reassignment in the public health sector and housing schemes for the community. “Sex reassignment surgery in the state is done only at private hospitals. Though the government provides financial aid for such surgeries, many transgenders are exploited by private players. Kerala needs a facility for sex reassignment in the public sector.”

Besides addressing transgender issues, Jaison actively participates in other activities of the DYFI—be it a door-to-door campaign, a fund collection drive or a public gathering, she is a regular face. With the new added responsibility, she is on a mission to bring more transgenders to DYFI fold.

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