Published: 16th April 2018
Meet the TISS students who made India's first gender-neutral hostel a reality
Transgenders and non-binary students are a rarity on campuses. Queer Collective at Tata Institure of Social Sciences wants to change that by building a comfortable place for them.
When 22-year-old trans-female Sai Tejo entered the boy's hostel at TISS Mumbai two years ago, she carried a lot of baggage — of abuse, discrimination and intolerance. She knew then that this hostel would never be home. Like any other youth, leaving home wasn't the easiest thing to do and in her case, the challenge was much larger. Not only did she have the anxiety of having to adjust to a new place, she also had to be wary of her surroundings, because more often than not, she was never considered "one of them".
Multiple thoughts, fear, and perpetual tension are enough to demand a safe and secure space but, in a world that is less than ideal, we need something more to make that a reality. A gender-inclusive initiative by the TISS Queer Collective (QC) has brought us closer to a better and an inclusive world. Thanks to the efforts of MA student Sai, and many others like him at the Queer Collective, Tata Institute of Social Sciences will soon have a gender-neutral hostel at its Mumbai campus. What does this mean? Men, women, transgenders, anyone can stay here without discrimination and bias.
The Queer Collective consists of students, irrespective of their gender, who believe in a world where nobody should be discriminated on the basis of their sexual orientation. Their efforts range from demanding equal rights for the gender minorities to suggesting potential solutions to the administration. The latest and one of the most prominent wins of this Collective is this gender-neutral hostel.
Colours of freedom: The Queer Collective (QC) has demanded gender-neutral hostels and are aiming at its implementation
That's precisely why this June is a special time for M Phil scholar and trans-queer Christopher Nag -- one of the 20 students, who will be moving into the hostel after fighting for it as part of the collective. According to her, such a hostel is essential to any college. "How many transgenders do you see on a college campus? Not many, right? That's because they don't have a place to stay where the discrimination is not normalised. How can you expect them to join a campus if they do not have a safe and open space to stay at?" she asks.
Recalling her first day at the designated boys' hostel, she remembers that there had been a lot of awkward stares and hushed giggles. "How am I going to live here?" she had thought. With the gender-neutral hostel shaping up well, Christi, as her friends call her, is proud of the way the Collective took this up with the authorities. "We addressed our issues with the student bodies and they took it forward. Obviously, it took a lot of time but the administration was supportive," she says.
Christi also makes it clear that the gender-neutral hostel will be open to everyone on the campus, who encourages civil rights for the clan. Altamash Khan, MA student at TISS, who was part of the Collective believes that's that way to be truly inclusive. "The hostel is also receiving applications from heterosexual students on the campus," he adds. The hostel, which will be set up on the ground floor of the women's hostel, will be filled on a first-come-first-served basis. While priority will be given to transgenders, the Queer Collective is very much interested in having heterosexual students to maintain the ethics of gender inclusivity.
Thanks to the idea, 22-year-old MA female student Vidya W might get a chance to stay in the hostel. "I am not a transgender but that does not mean that I can't relate to the thoughts that they share. The idea is to encourage inclusiveness on the campus. If my friends are transgenders and I get a chance to stay with them, why would I let it go?" she raises a simple yet important question. The hostel will be operational in June and the Queer Collective is both, excited and nevous, to enter first-of-its-kind space.
The students at the QC are also fighting for gender-neutral toilets and hope that the administration entertains their long-due request.