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Have you ever seen a transperson play mainstream sports or any sport? Sadam Hanjabam, founder of a Manipur based NGO Ya-All tells you why none of us have.
Three years ago, when an Imphal based NGO Ya-All came up with an idea of building a football team by recruiting transgender players in Manipur, they never imagined what life would be like in 2020. The NGO couldn’t have imagined that 2020 would be the year when India would witness its first all transgender team in the long recorded history of sports!
“The purpose of this was to tell people that transgender persons can compete in any form when given a platform and equal opportunity,” says Sadam Hanjabam, founder and CEO of Ya-All.
“Seeing transgender persons in sports is a different thing because our society is still very binary now. People never thought that a transgender person could play. If they want to play then they can play either in men’s or women’s category. So, no one has ever questioned it. They have always been stereotyped into sex work or begging,” Hanjabam says.
Section 13 of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 lays down an obligation on the educational institutions to provide opportunities in sports to transgender persons. These institutions may be recognised or funded by the government.
According to Manasi Bhushan, Advocate in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court, “It in no manner promotes and makes reservations for transgender persons in sports at national and international levels.”
Sunil Mohan.R, researcher and gender rights activist, who identifies himself as a transman says, “The legislation is silent about making reservations in sports for the transgender community because the movement has not gone that far. And the administration is basically trying to understand their situation in terms of livelihood.”
He further says, “Making a third category for transgender persons in sports will help in creating a space for them in sports. Traditionally, sports like cricket and football were always considered as a men’s sport but are now being played by women too. Women created a space for themselves by raising their voice and that is how we should open up a space for the transgender community too.”
In his book called Towards Gender Inclusivity, Sunil talks about his plight when he used to play cricket and how the sport helped him express his identity better. He played for the Kerala state women’s cricket team from 1999 to 2003.
Sunil says, “In my own experience, I played cricket and I thought I could handle my expression of gender identity in terms of my masculinity in the name of sports. But that also came under fire. My father tore my shirt, snatched away my cricket uniform, and burnt it in front of me. All because I was not behaving like a woman. He would beat me black and blue because of my gender expression. For me, the biggest question always was- why did I have to receive so much physical and emotional violence? I wondered if I could ever file a legal case against my father and family.”
Transgender persons are yet to attain social acceptance and the desired social inclusion in society. Given that society is still not sensitised enough about their issues, Sunil thinks that sports can turn out to be an opportunity for these people.
“As a cricket player, the sport gave me a sense of independence. I started traveling because of the matches. Before that, I was at home and couldn’t go anywhere. Cricket has also given me a lot of courage and exposure. I got to interact with a lot of people during that time,” he says.
Meanwhile, the NALSA (National Legal Services Authority of India) judgment of 2014 is considered a landmark decision by the apex court. For the first time, the third gender and their fundamental rights were recognised by the apex court. The judgement gave direction to the central and state governments to take necessary steps to frame social welfare schemes for the community.
However, Hanjabam says, the welfare boards are not being run properly. “The welfare boards, which are mostly working under the social welfare departments, are weak and are not being strengthened. They are not coming out properly, either since the government is not taking them seriously or there isn’t sufficient funding for the board to work,” he says.
He further explains the challenge that such teams face with funding. “There is no platform for transgender persons in sports. We have created this team to set an example to challenge society and the system. People will happily invest in a football team for men or women, but they do not come out and invest in a team of transgender players. Mostly because they know there will be no platform, recognised by the government. So, people think that it is a waste of resources.”
He adds that playing sports is like a luxury for transgender persons and they have a range of other challenges as well. For example, getting an education, job, and a home. “They are struggling to meet their ends and because of these reasons they do not get enough opportunities to gain skills relevant to their dream as a sportsperson.”
It still seems a long fight for the community to gain a respected space, which was legitimised by the apex court only a couple of years ago.
Picture credits: Ya-All’s Facebook page
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Kritika is a Delhi-based Journalist who hails from Chhattisgarh. She is a feminist and
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