How Ratikant became Aishwarya: An Odisha transgender's remarkable journey from humiliation to vindication

Just over a year ago, he was Ratikant Pradhan. Now she is Aishwarya Rutuparna. Posted as commercial tax officer (CTO) under the department of finance in the Government of Odisha at the port city of Paradip, Ratikant has travelled a very long and humiliating journey to become his... err... her own self.

hidden December 24, 2015 10:36:15 IST
How Ratikant became Aishwarya: An Odisha transgender's remarkable journey from humiliation to vindication

By Debendra Prusty

Just over a year ago, he was Ratikant Pradhan. Now she is Aishwarya Rutuparna. Posted as commercial tax officer (CTO) under the department of finance in the Government of Odisha at the port city of Paradip, Ratikant has travelled a very long and humiliating journey to become his... err... her own self.

She is now a proud transgender, who has no need to hide her gender. She has filed an application for a transgender certificate to the government of Odisha. And she is hopeful that she will get one.

It all started when Ratikant was studying in the 8th standard in a local school in the nondescript village of Kanabagiri under G Udaygiri Block of Kandhamal district in Odisha. He had a feeling that he was not a boy, although he had all the male organs. Yet, he could not say it openly to his friends.

How Ratikant became Aishwarya An Odisha transgenders remarkable journey from humiliation to vindication

Aishwarya Rutuparna at work. Debendra Prusty

At the time, transgender communities were looked down upon and seldom mustered the courage to come out in the open to declare their gender. More importantly, they did not have any legal status. So he could not claim his real self, and suppressed the reality. But not for long. Soon he started wearing female attire to the anger and astonishment of his parents.

"When I was a teenager, I started feeling that I belonged to the third sex. I started wearing bangles, ear rings, nose rings and salwar suits, because that is the attire I felt comfortable in," says Aishwarya. But her parents scolded her. Friends humiliated her. She could not go to school wearing female attire and faced taunts wherever she went. ‘Even my parents and friends ostracised me,’ she says.

So she stopped wearing dresses in order to continue her studies.

But within 'her', Ratikant was feeling restless and suffocated. She was trying very hard to come out in the open, but feared the conservative tribal society to which she belongs. So she decided to wait.

And that long wait was over a year ago.

The day the Supreme Court delivered that historic judgment recognising the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT), Ratikant decided to declare her real self in public. She filed an affidavit before the concerned authority and changed her name from Ratikant Pradhan to Aishwarya Rutuparna Pradhan.

In the meantime, she studied very hard to complete her Masters degree in public administration and a one-year diploma course in mass communication and journalism from Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Dhenkanal. She then got a job at Syndicate Bank. But in 2010, she cleared the Odisha Public Service Commission (OPSC) exam and was selected to be an Odisha Finance Service officer.

She had to appear for all examinations as a male, since there was no third gender category back then. "There was no quota or concessional cut off in the written exam, physical examination or interview for transgenders," says Aishwarya, adding proudly, "But now people have accepted me for what I am."

Sitting in her office, she admits this with no feeling of shame or inferiority.

Her self-esteem is very high. She hopes that the government will soon issue her a transgender certificate. And she also hopes to have a partner. She says that if she finds a compatible partner, "I will marry". Unfortunately, this new social reality has not gained total acceptability and so her hopes are tempered about whether she will be legally allowed to adopt a child. "As per the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, only males and females can adopt children," she says, adding, "I hope the government amends the Act and paved the way for transgender persons to adopt children."

Having come this far, Aishwarya now wants to empower her community.

She says there are around 25,000 transgender persons in Odisha, but the government has not done much for them even after the SC verdict. ‘There are many instances when transgender persons have carved a niche for themselves, but they are still ridiculed and not accepted," she says. She has recently called on the government to carry out the SC order and at least open educational institutions and jobs for them.

For her own part, Aishwarya has associated herself with an organisation called Sakha which works for and is managed by transgenders.

The author tweets @debendraprusty

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