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Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds

Transgender Ambedkar Buddhists

My last post ended with the question, “Can we find a way for Third Gender people in India to feel welcome in Ambedkar Buddhism? Is it possible for Hijra and Jogappa, whose gender roles are tied to Hindu goddess worship, to find a  place within Ambekarism when there is such a strong sanction against Hindu faith within the original formulation of his Buddhism? Might Kothi, Aravani and Kinnar find a place in Ambedkar’s radically modernist and socially progressive Buddhism?” The answer is a tentative ‘yes’.

One of the few examples I have found showing that Third Gender people are welcome in Ambedkar Buddhism was a festival that took place at the very end of December, 2018, at the Vaanam Cultural Festival in Chennai.

The Vaanam Cultural Festival was a three-day event organised by Neelam Foundation. Held at St. Ebba’s Higher Secondary School in Mylapore, Chennai on December 29, 30 and 31, the fest featured performances, art installations, food and much more…

The underlying theme of Vaanam was caste, in that every artwork and performance sought to address casteism and caste supremacy….

The first artwork to greet visitors was a huge art installation of B R Ambedkar. Babasaheb kept appearing throughout the venue, in various objects and merchandise, including calendars, bags and the like…

Later, two transgender women narrated the life of B R Ambedkar.

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Here it is. Some kind of proof that Third Gender and Transgender people are welcome in Ambedkar Buddhism.


In 2017, this story was published in DNA India of a transgender woman, Disha Pinky Shaikh, who participated in the commemoration of Ambedkar’s death on December 6, the Mahaparinirvana of Ambedkar.

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Disha Pinky Shaikh, a 33-year-old transgender from Ahmednagar, is in Shivaji Park to run a stall to sell books during the Mahaparinirvan congregation to observe Dr Ambedkar’s death anniversary. The rains did play spoilsport on Tuesday; however, she hopes that Wednesday will be better. Disha is the first transgender to run a book stall during the event.

Along with the books on Ambedkar, Disha’s stall also sells books on gender issues. She says that the huge gathering of people at Shivaji Park should be exposed to gender issues along with books on Ambedkar’s teachings.

Every year on December 6 lakhs of followers of Ambedkar gather at the Chaityabhoomi to commemorate his death anniversary. As memorabilia, they buy books on Ambedkar, Buddhism, and related issues from the stalls set up there.

Disha believes that it is because of drafting of the Constitution, in which Ambedkar played a vital role, that she is able to have some rights of her own. “I am drawn to Ambedkar and his writing on Buddhism. I don’t belong to the Buddhist faith; however, I like reading about the faith. I am the first transgender to have a book stall here and am hopeful that this will inspire others in my community,” said Disha.

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…Disha has studied only till seventh standard but has good knowledge on gender issues and is now invited to colleges to give lectures on gender sensitivity. Being a transgender, she is aware of the politics and issues related to the community. “I have all books in my stall mostly based on gender. Also, the book stall was planned for three days but due to rain the plan got spoiled. However, many books are getting sold out and people showing a positive response.”

She further stated that she wants to create awareness about gender equality. Shaikh also gives lectures in schools and colleges on gender equality. Disha expects people from her community to join her in the movement and wants others to get sensitive about their issues. She is the first transgender to run a book stall at Shivaji Park on December 6.

Observing the response to Disha, Anurag Gaikwad purchased books from her stall and also clicked a selfie with her. Gaikwad said, “She is an inspiration for me. I saw her on some news channels and decided to come to her stall, purchase books and speak to her. More such people should come forward, only then change is possible. In addition, they should get an equal opportunity to earn livelihood.

To encourage Disha in her journey, her students also joined her and and have lent a helping hand to sell books at her stall. Ajit Bhalerao, a student of Disha’s, said she gives impressive lectures on gender equality. “Her in-depth knowledge on gender issues inspires us. She should be encouraged, so that more people from this community will come forward,” said Bhalerao.


This article about a transgender Dalit actress who advocates for transgender rights was featured in Dr. Ambedkar’s Caravan website.

Dalit History Month – Inspirational Living Smile Vidya

Today in Dalit History we honor the inspirational Living Smile Vidya. An activist, actress and author, Living Smile Vidya has transformed trans politics in India through the fearlessness of her work in all of her creative mediums.

Born into an Arunthathiyar community, Living Smile Vidya writes poignantly of her journey to be recognized as a woman in her breakthrough biography “I am Vidya”, India’s first transgender autobiography. The book outlines her struggles with gender realization as a transwoman in her teenage years, her traumatic gender reassignment surgery, and her turbulent journey with her family. Originally written in Tamil it has now been translated into English, Malayalam, Kannada and Marathi and is taught in colleges throughout South India. In addition to the book, a critically-acclaimed Kannada film, “Naanu Avanalla, Avalu (I am not he, I am her)” adapted her story and has won mwon 2 National Awards and a Sahitya Acakemi Award.

Smile Vidya

Beyond her writing, Living Smile Vidya is also an accomplished actress. She was the first full-time trans theatre actress, and her acting to date includes 20 performances with 9 eminent theatre directors. She also made the leap from theater to film acting in short films and documentaries. Her performances have tackled the changing face of masculinity and the ongoing exploitation of Dalit women, while addressing humanity and peace in relation to gender and political space. For her substantial body of performance work, the British Council for excellence in Theatre awarded her the Charles Wallace India Trust scholarship in 2013.

The tcenter of her creativity though is her activism. Living Smile Vidya through her own painful experience, speaks out against the violence that occurs to her community when trans people are stigmatized and forced to beg or do sex work to survive. She fought that sentence; and was one of the first trans people to work in a professional setting as a banker. With this win, she continued to fight for the recognition of her community by being the first trans person to have her chosen gender identity reflected in her passport.

Living Smile Vidya continues to fight for trans affirmative action that reflects the intersectionality of their identities under caste patriarchy. She asserts that the unique trauma of growing up a trans creates an emotional, social and economic space that must be addressed on its own. This is a new frontier for her activism; as she was one of the five transgender people, who, last November, had approached the Madras High Court demanding a 3% reservation under a new category, mirroring those for people with disabilities. She asserts that affirmative action is vital to this journey: “When parents see a transgender child, they think of begging or sex work as their future. How will they accept their own children if these are their only options?”

To her leadership, courage, beauty, and a powerful truth, we salute Living Smile Vidya! Jai Bhim!

 

 

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This entry was posted on 2019/12/10 by .

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