Transgender Teacher Atri Kar Opens Up About Harassment By School Faculty
- IWB Post
- March 5, 2018
UPDATE: Atri had to fight the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) for two years, and finally got an interim order on February 27 from the CAT’s Calcutta bench and will now be able to take the exam. Following the decision, Kar became the first transgender from Bengal to write UPSC exams.
Society is a cruel place. You are only welcome if you adhere to the narrow standards set by them. From what you should wear to what you should eat, society even decides who you should be.
Well, if you look closely, we might be a democratic country, yet, the “norms” set by the society are so stringent and redundant that there’s no scope for the “different.”
Can we choose what we are as a gender and our sexual affinities? And, even if we want to choose our sexual identity, why are our choices questioned and shunned by the society?
Transgender Atri Kar’s story is a staunch reminder of how LGBT+ people are discriminated at every level and how they have to struggle to attain even their basic fundamental rights.
However, Atri’s determination and will to move ahead despite such challenges is a reflection of the true human spirit.
Born and brought up as a boy in Tribeni, West Bengal, Atri Kar was mocked at every step.
“Classmates used to make fun of me and I had no friends. The only saving grace while growing up was that I was a bright child. I always came 1st in the class and secured 93-94%, so, my grades spoke for me. But, at every step, I was looked down upon. In fact, in 12th, I had to quit my tuitions of Chemistry and Maths because I was frustrated of being bullied. There was no one to help me, I studied alone in my room,” Atri recalls while talking to me over the phone.
Nothing came easy to her, but she was determined and committed to making a difference. In the beginning of this year, she became the first-ever Transgender from West Bengal to appear for the Civil Services Exam.
Atri tells me about her struggle, the physical and mental trauma she had to go through to appear in these exams, which was in fact, just a start to many such fights.
“It was in 2012, that I had cleared my West Bengal Civil Services (WBCS) examination with 68% and the form for the WBCS came out only in 2016. In between, I also tried to appear for SSC exam, but, when I tried filling the online form, there were only two choices Male and Female. I went to the Head Office to inquire why there’s no ‘others’ option in the form. However, at the time, no action was taken and I had to fill the form as a male,” she explains me.
She also tells me the reason why she didn’t fight for it further, “I was undergoing laser treatment at the time and so, it wasn’t possible for me to do rounds of various offices and court.”
However, in 2016, when she was filling the WBCS form again, she saw that there had been still only two options, M or F. This came as a bigger shock to her as till then the Supreme Court in its landmark verdict had given the formal recognition to transgenders as the third category. And so, this time she decided to win her right even if that meant she had to file a case in the High Court which she did.
But, the case wasn’t heard by the High Court who suggested Atri file a case at the State Tribunal. Eventually, she won the case and the Tribunal passed the judgment stating that a transgender candidate must be given a chance to appear in WBCS exams.
“This was my first victory. But, I didn’t know that it was just a beginning of filing similar cases in High Court,” Atri says and I can hear the disappointment in her voice.
Next time, she filed a similar case in High Court when she wished to appear for SBI Probationary Officer Recruitment and again noticed only two gender options in the form. She emerged victorious once again!
However, the biggest shock came to Atri when she saw the form for IAS, the biggest civil services exams in India.
“I wanted to fill the form for UPSC exam and I was stunned to see that even their form, too, had only two gender options. Two years after the SC verdict, the Government job exam forms hadn’t incorporated ‘others’ in their applications. It was truly heartbreaking!”
Having prepared for the exams for one and a half years, she again had to fight for her right to appear in the exams. Again she filed the case in HC.
“Again the HC said to me that this case didn’t come under their jurisdiction and I had to file the case with Central Administrative Tribunal. The verdict was due on Friday and I had my exam on Sunday. I was sure that I would be sitting in the exam, but, I lost the case,” she tells me. Shocked, I ask why, to which she replies, “Jayati, apparently, there was a third party who messaged the judge and threatened her to not give a verdict in the case. As soon as the judge entered the courtroom, she threw away our file and told us straightforward that she cannot pass judgment on this case.”
“This was the only time, Jayati, that I felt giving up,” she confides in me in a slow whisper, but then she adds, “The real question is that what would have happened if I didn’t have a job or haven’t cleared so many prestigious exams. People have learned to tolerate us, but, no one accepts us. No one helps you if you are not “elite.””
Atri emphasizes the importance of giving opportunities to Transgenders and says that, “Unless you give us reservations and make sure that at every job post, at least one transgender is being placed, people will not get habitual to us and our existence. People do not want to come to us and be friends with us. More than anything else, there’s this social stigma. And, only if we are visible to them, we’ll get this opportunity to explain ourselves to them. I’m not demanding reservations for decades. But, make us equal to the privileged class first and then you are welcome to withdraw the reservations.”
“This is my third school transfer and I’m happy that people here are very open-minded and transgender-friendly. I had to leave my first job in school because I was being tortured and harassed by the fellow staff for my sexual identity. At the time, I was a boy, itself. At the second school, the headmaster was very cooperative and sensitive towards me. However, a few teachers were transphobic and didn’t want me to work with them. It was during this time that I had decided to undergo sex transition and so, the headmaster advised me to take up a job at another school,” she reveals.
She then confides in me that she is the favorite teacher to all her students and how it makes her feel blessed.
“They love me so much, sometimes, more than the other teachers. Till last year, I dressed up as a male and they have seen that, and now when I’m dressed as a female, they call me Madam. They accept me for who I am and that’s the biggest reward.”
Intrigued about her relationship with the students, I ask how she teaches her kids about gender beyond just male and female and various sexual identities of the people.
She explains in a cheerful tone, “On the rainy days, when there are fewer students and they do not want to study, I tell them stories and use a bit of science, too, to teach them all about humans beyond the restricted borders of binary gender. I tell them that like a person can be curvy or petite, fair or wheatish, tall or short, the same way, there are many different kinds of humans which cannot be described as male or female.”
Atri also adds that even the parents know about her and are sensitized about the whole community and points out, yet again the need for open conversations with people about such things.
When I ask about her take on love, Atri reveals that after her bitter relationships in the past, she doesn’t trust men anymore, “I was in a relationship with a bisexual man. But, when I asked him to make the relationship public, he backed out by saying that he has a wife. I told him that as he’s telling me that he has a wife, why can’t he tell his wife that he’s also in a relationship with a transgender. Men can flirt with us, have sex with us, but, won’t marry us or commit to us because there’s there “social image” that they have to protect.”
“Now, I’ll only take a man who will be ready to hold my hand in front of the society and say that I love her, otherwise, I’m happy being single,” she adds.
She tells me then that it is her childhood dream to have a family, “a partner who’s only mine and then we would adopt a child.”
“But, I don’t know when that’ll happen. So, right now my goal is only to be an IAS officer,” concludes Atri.
This article was first published in June 2017.