Education is a fundamental right that should be accessible to each and every individual irrespective of one's age, gender, ethnicity or societal position. However, to a vast range of people in Bangladesh, it is just a privilege that is hardly accessible. This sense of deprivation has prolonged for ages now. Yet, it can be agreed that with gradual changes, comes eventual progress. What seemed impossible even a decade ago, is showing possibility now.
As against all odds, and against all conventional norms standardised by our society, it is the marginalised beings of our nation who are rising. They are the ones who are paving the way forward towards betterment, acceptance and equality, both at the workplace and now in the field of higher education as well. Such is the story of two friends Tashnuva Anan (trans-feminist activist) and Hochemin Islam (trans-feminist, nurse), who have fought for their equal rights within and for the establishment of the transgender community.
In the words of Anan, "We obtained the opportunity to study for a master's in public health at BRAC James P Grant School; it has been a lifelong dream to study for an international degree. This will create a new path for the transgender community in Bangladesh." Similarly, Islam also stated, "In spite of being transgender, we attained an international platform. So this is a path that Tashnuva and I have taken, real change happens when it starts to come, the dream of an equal society."
In many ways, it is a sequential progress as transgender community is now considered a separate gender officially. Prior to these changes, it was the norm in society to engage in belittling tendencies towards them, as proclaimed by a seminar at the Bandhu Social Welfare Society, that; "In Bangladesh, this community remains socially excluded, living on the fringes of society, harassed by the police and abused by the public. Most make a living by singing and dancing at weddings or child birth, many have moved to begging and prostitution." They were also the first to initiate the notion in Bangladesh, that the term 'third-gender' is not a mere word, it is an identity, a separate gender. As two transgender people have been accepted for an international degree, there is only scope for improvement now.
These progresses might be slow in pace, but they are coming constantly. For instance, Swapno, during Ramadan last year, recruited transgender sales representative to create some opportunities for this community. A national daily reported a few months back that the denim industry would create a trans-inclusive environment within their warehouses. In addition, the very first religious school for transgender people was introduced, where more than 150 students will study Islamic and vocational subjects free of charge at the privately-funded seminary, or madrassa, in the capital. Many in the transgender community now identify as a third gender proudly as it is now officially recognised in the country. They have the right to vote and compete in the election.
These all seem to be following a sequential order of progress and betterment, and such milestones provide a ray of hope for equality with dignity amongst the people of a community that has been long deprived. Slowly, but surely, these are the changes that will bring about social development in the context of growth, awareness and individuality. It can be agreed that Bangladesh is now gradually changing the rigid social construct, while growing and developing in the direction of inclusivity at both workplaces and now, higher education as well. A day, no one thought would come even just a couple of years ago; a change that is likely to make statements, reshaping the future, initiating the essence of betterment and empowerment of a diverse and equal society.
The writer studied MSc in International Relations at Royal Holloway University of London.
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