Arya Pujari’s life so far has been punctuated by trauma. She was bullied at school, escaped sexual assault as a teenager, and humiliated by passersby due to her identity as a transgender woman.
But on November 16, Arya, 22, finally won a war she’s been waging for four years. The Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal directed the state government to include third gender as an option in application forms for all recruitments under the home department.
The tribunal had been hearing Arya’s application when it passed its order. Arya had tried to apply online three times for the recruitment of police constables. The online application form only provided two options for gender and so she wasn’t able to file her application.
Subsequently, the tribunal the state to “fix the criteria for physical standards and tests, so that the online application can be accepted”.
For Arya, this was the culmination of years of efforts. “I want to make my life meaningful,” she told Newslaundry. “That’s why I want to become a police official. The most important thing is that my parents shouldn’t think they were cursed by giving birth to me. I want them to hold their heads high.”
Importantly, the Supreme Court in 2014 had recognised transgender people as a third gender. Saying this was a “human rights issue”, the apex court had the central and state governments to extend reservation for their public appointments and admissions to educational institutions.
Yet this still isn’t the case, as Arya discovered.
From struggle to success
Arya is originally from Mhaisal village in Miraj taluka in Maharashtra’s Sangli district. She presently lives in Satara, which has been her home for the last four years.
Since Class 4, she said, she was “subject to humiliation”. “Students made fun of me and called me chakka or gud or hijra,” she said. “My classmates avoided me. Very few people talked to me in school. Nobody would share tiffin with me during lunch break. They teased me all the time with all kinds of slang.”
Arya was often angry and sad, she said, and also confused by her own identity. “In order to stop them from behaving in such a way, I tried to act like a boy,” she said. “By Class 10, I realised I was different and began recognising my identity as transgender.”
She added, “It’s not easy for a trans person to lead a normal life in our society. In the first year of my junior college [Class 11] in Miraj, I was walking to the bus stop after class to go home. Suddenly, a group of 15-20 boys started following me. They hurled all kinds of sexually obscene abuses at me. Some of them held me and tried to pull me into a garden. Fortunately, since the area was near the college, a police patrol passed and rescued me.”
The police escorted her home “but their behaviour was not good towards me either”, she said, “as if I had made some mistake.”
When she graduated from school, Arya left home. “At that time, my parents were not in a state of mind to understand or accept my identity,” she said. “I came to Satara and started living with other transgender persons. I joined an NGO working for transgender rights.”
However, she added that her parents now have “totally accepted my identity and are happy with it.”
In Satara, Arya enrolled at a nursing college. Two months later, she was unable to apply for a nursing exam because there was no third gender option in the form. She quit her course and enrolled elsewhere for a BA degree instead.
“I was a little sad and worried. I didn’t want to end up begging or in sex work, which is where many transgenders end up because of lack of opportunities,” she said. “To boost my morale, I began searching for successful transgenders on the internet. That’s how I came to know about Prithika Yashini.”
In 2017, became the first transgender person in India to become a police officer. Two years later, she was a sub-inspector in Chennai and was also the subject of a documentary on the challenges she faced.
Arya hadn’t met Prithika but she was inspired. “I decided to become a police constable.”
In 2018, she enrolled at a police training academy in Dhaygude. She’d visited four other academies but they all refused to take her, claiming they had no capacity to enrol more students. But the Dhaygude academy “willingly” took her and even refused to accept payments.
Till now, they have not charged a single rupee for training,” Arya said.
The same year, Arya tried to apply for the first time for the state’s police constable recruitment. The application form did not contain an option for third gender so she couldn’t apply. The same thing happened in 2019, and then again in 2021. (She didn’t apply in 2020 because of the pandemic.)
“I went to almost all the government offices with my application, asking them to include the third gender option,” she said. “I went to the office of the collector, the superintendent of police. I was not aware that this issue cannot be resolved by them.” She also wrote dozens of letters to ministers and government functionaries, but nothing happened.
On November 6 this year, Arya saw an advertisement to fill 145 police constable vacancies. Her application didn’t go through and she decided it was time for legal recourse.
“I consulted a lawyer whom I’d met during a trainer seminar,” she said. “With his help, I approached the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal. In response to my petition, the tribunal issued an order to include third gender for transgenders in the application form.”
Arya is elated. Chaitanya Ranpise, the director of the Dhaygude academy, told Newslaundry that Arya’s efforts will allow “many other transgenders to get a chance to employ themselves in the police force”.
“Arya is a very hard-working person. She is good at academics and her physical fitness is also good. She will definitely get through,” Ranpise said. “Despite repeated rejections of her application forms, she never gave up. She struggled for the inclusion of transgenders in the form, and she succeeded.”
Arya’s lawyer, Kaustubh Gidh, said he’s handled many cases but this was the first time he was “shocked to see the resistance from the government”. “The government has a mentality that transgender people are criminal-minded,” Gidh said. “This is going to be a long battle to acquire their rights.”
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