Grace Banu

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Dalit and transgender activist Grace Banu from Tamil Nadu, India

Grace Banu is a Dalit and transgender activist. She was the first transgender person to be admitted to an engineering college in the state of Tamil Nadu. As of 2014, she is studying at Sri Krishna College of Engineering.

Early life[edit]

Banu was born and raised in Tuticorin district, Tamil Nadu.[1] A Dalit, she says that from early in her schooldays she was not allowed to attend the regular hours of 9.30 am to 4 pm.[2]

She was told that in order to attend school she had to agree to come in to school at 10 am, after all the other students were in and settled, and leave at 3.30 pm before others finished.[citation needed] Other students were told that they would be punished if they interacted with her. This kind of untouchability, based on both her caste and gender identity, caused her to attempt suicide and give up on the idea of finishing school.[3] Banu's family rejected her in 2008 when she told them of her gender identity.[4]

Despite financial difficulties and discrimination from classmates and teachers, Banu undertook a Diploma in Computer Engineering.[5][3]

She was the first transgender person to be admitted to an engineering college in the state of Tamil Nadu.[6] Banu struggled financially to remain in college, in part because she was not receiving any support from her family at the time. Responding to a call for help, a local businessman launched an online campaign raising funds for her to complete the course.[7] Her adopted daughter Tharika Banu is also first to attend secondary education as a transgender in India.[8]

Professional life[edit]

After completing her Diploma with honours (95%), Banu was selected to work for a software firm when she had excelled at a campus interview. She worked as a programmer until she quit due to alleged discrimination.[5]

She filed a Right to Information (RTI) to find out if Anna University accepted transgender students. On finding out that they did not, she applied against their rules anyway and was given admission to a private affiliated college, Sri Krishna College of Engineering.[6]


Banu believes that ultimately Reservation, dedicated places for members of different groups, is key to the uplift of transgender people. "No amount of temporary governmental and non-governmental schemes can have the transgenerational impact that reservations can have. Reservations are the only way," she says.[9] She has been advocating for Dalit and transgender rights, demanding along with other transgender people for reservation based on gender identity as well as caste.[10][11][12]

Banu insists that the intersectionality of these oppressions matter. She believes that Dalits can be transphobic and that the transgender community replicates structures of caste privilege. She says that upper-caste transgender people bring Brahminism into transgender cultural, community and organizing spaces. Despite being pressed, upper-caste transgender women dominate all the positions of leadership, call the shots and define the needs for the whole community."[9] Denying caste in the transgender community is like "hiding a whole pumpkin in a plate of rice," she says.[9]

Banu was active in voicing concerns and questioning the death of a fellow trans woman named Tara (Thara), who burned to death in Chennai.[13][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Anna University admits transgender in engg course". Deccan Herald. 18 November 2015. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  2. ^ Dalit Camera (19 July 2016). ""Casteism Very Much Exists Among Trans* People": Video Interview With Grace Banu". Feminism in India. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  3. ^ a b Krishnan, Madhuvanti S. "Shamed on campus". The Hindu.
  4. ^ "Tamil Nadu's First Transgender Engineering Student Is Struggling For Money To Complete Studies". Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  5. ^ a b "Here's how you can help Tamil Nadu's first transgender engineering student". DNA India. 21 November 2015.
  6. ^ a b Scott, D. J. Walter. "First transgender in Tamil Nadu gets engineering seat". The Hindu. Retrieved 2017-04-16.
  7. ^ "First transgender person to get engineering seat in TN now has no money to graduate, help her". The News Minute. 18 November 2015. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  8. ^ "Tamil Nadu: Tharika Banu, a transgender, pass 12th exams, wants to become a doctor". The Indian Express. 2017-05-12. Retrieved 2019-02-27.
  9. ^ a b c Dalit Camera (2016-07-02), Grace Banu - India's first transgender engineering student, & activist, retrieved 2017-04-15
  10. ^ Murali, A. Revathi As told to Nandini (21 November 2016). "Life in Trans Activism, A". Zubaan.
  11. ^ "Activists demand revised draft of transgender bill". DNA India. 6 November 2016.
  12. ^ Shreya Ila Anasuya. "Merely celebrating the exceptional achievements of trans-people conceals their struggle". Yahoo News.
  13. ^ "Foul play alleged in Transgender Death". The Hindu. November 10, 2016. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  14. ^ "Moral policing in Kerala to clashes in Kashmir: How FB Live is changing the way we tell stories". The News Minute. 23 February 2017.