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. She lives in the Thoothukudi district, Tamil Nadu.
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. 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. Banu's family rejected her in 2008 when she told them of her gender identity.
She was the first transgender person to be admitted to an engineering college in the state of Tamil Nadu. 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. Her adopted daughter Tharika Banu is also first to attend secondary education as a transgender person in India.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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." Denying caste in the transgender community is like "hiding a whole pumpkin in a plate of rice," she says.
Tharika Banu is the first registered transgender person to complete her secondary education in Tamil Nadu. She was denied admission into college but her adoptive mother and transgender activist Grace Banu filed a case in Madras High Court to fight for her.
She studied until Class 11 in a government school there. Her parents refused to accept her when they came to know that she was a transgender woman. After that, the bullying she fell victim to in school became unbearable. In 2013, Tharika, ran away from her home in the Thoothukudi district, where she did not feel accepted or comfortable. She arrived in Chennai, where she was legally adopted by transgender activist Grace Banu. Grace helped her to get an official identification, name change and a sex reassignment surgery and made it possible for Tharika to finish her education.
- Transgender rights in Tamil Nadu
- LGBT rights in India
- Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014, India
- Living Smile Vidya, transgender activist in India
- Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, transgender activist in India
- List of Dalits
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