Bengal's transgender fights odds, battle-ready for civil services exam
Atri Kar's resolute voice betrays her frustration. On January 29, she will be the first transgender candidate from West Bengal to appear in a state civil services examination.
Fraught with legal hassles, the 27-year-old's uphill climb to write the exam has cost her a lot of prep time, which she fears might limit her chances to realise her dream of a career in the state civil service.
A battle-scarred Kar hopes the landmark Supreme Court judgement -- in which NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) was the petitioner -- is executed in letter and spirit because, she says, even nearly three years after the historic verdict, the ruling is largely restricted to introducing the 'other' category in voter cards.
The apex court had through the verdict recognised individual's right to determine and express one's gender and had granted a legal status to the 'third gender'.
As an aspiring civil servant, Kar was shocked last year to find that the West Bengal Public Service Commission (WBPSC) hadn't notified the 'other' category in its application forms for the state civil services examination.
"After my requests to the WBPSC for including the 'other' category did not elicit any response, I decided to take legal recourse. Though I will finally be writing the exam in a week as a third gender candidate, it has been a long and arduous journey that has cost me a lot of time with regards to exam preparation," Kar told IANS.
"I filed a case against the commission in Calcutta High Court with the help of Human Rights Law Network (HRLN). Since the court said it should be filed at the State Administrative Tribunal, we did accordingly and the tribunal ordered the commission to let me appear in the exam as a third-gender candidate," a harried Kar explained.
She went to court again recently. Kar was the first third-gender candidate from the state to write the Railway Recruitment Board exam.
"I appeared as a third-gender candidate in the first stage of the examination with fee relaxation but when the results came out, to my disappointment, there was no reservation for people like me. I scored 56 per cent but that was deemed insufficient to sit in the next stage. Cut-offs for many other categories were much lower, whereas we had no reservation. So I filed another case with the help of HRLN," said Kar, who was finally allowed to write the next stage of the exam in early January.
A resident of Hooghly district's Tribeni, Kar had to juggle her primary school teaching and legal fight, a feat made all the more difficult by the fact that she was spending around five hours only to commute between her home town and Kolkata and back for the court battle.
At the same time Kar, an English Honours graduate, was undergoing a "transformation" due to the ongoing hormonal therapy to become a woman.
"I felt weak due to therapy and often thought it won't work out. I did request the state Education Department for help but nothing happened," Kar said, lambasting the alleged inaction of the state Transgender Welfare Board.
"The NALSA judgement calls for public awareness so that people like me do not face discrimination. This has not happened. The authorities should ensure they can implement the judgement in a proper way and not just limit it to creating a separate category on paper," Kar said, admitting that she had to change three schools in two-and-half years because of the stigma attached.
Asserting that she had been a good student all through, Kar apprehends the reactions to her struggle from members of her own community.
"There might be two strands of thought -- a section may feel emboldened to actually pursue their dreams despite the odds while, on the other hand, others may be discouraged by watching me strugle."
"If an educated person has to go through so much, then the lesser privileged ones may not be willing to chase their dreams," she added.