Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Report on ICSSR Sponsored National Seminar on Trans Inclusion at Periyar University 21-22nd Jan'2016

A. Mani

All interested stakeholders including researchers, teachers, activists and NGOs were invited. Most of the participation was from south India. Local students from both the sociology and psychology departments formed a substantial part of the participation. Overall the conference may be said to be successful in helping all stake holders interact on such a difficult topic, but it could have been better.

Proper quality control of submitted papers were not apparently ensured and so the acceptance rate was high. Only some of the papers really contributed to the subject in a substantial way and many were either not adding anything new from theoretical or empirical perspectives. Student papers were excusable to an extent. Not surprisingly, some researchers felt that that the time allotted for their presentation was too less. Questions were also not allowed after talks in many sessions resulting in no discussions/clarification of wrong/very questionable views expressed by some speakers. For example, some of the audience was left wondering about the statement that "the transgender problem is due to migration of people to urban centres". Many speakers conflated indigenous cultural groups like 'Hijra', 'Kinnar' etc and groups determined by sexuality with 'transgender' groups.

Of the many visible trans people expressly invited to deliver talks on their own personal experience, only some including Akkai Padmashali, Banu and Prithika attended. All three especially Akkai Padmashali spoke well on core issues facing trans women. Akkai specifically mentioned that the point of ensuring positive change through legislation is broken in the face of the fact that most of parliament is incompetent in matters relating to sex, gender and relationships. This fact entails that activists must specifically focus on educating people on basics. Prithika, who fought her way into the police force, mentioned that she finds the word "third gender" reek of othering and most agreed. Banu, who is a engineering student and thirinangai rights activist, spoke well on her experiences including the challenges faced within her community.

My talk was shifted to the first day and I had more time to speak on parts of an extended version of an earlier paper of mine. It was about connections between loneliness, suicidal tendencies and exclusion of trans women from a grounded and theoretical psychological perspective with analysis of the lives of various qualified trans women. I could really connect with the audience and my talk was much appreciated.

I did interact with many researchers, students, activists and academics from both psychology and sociology (and yes, had number of pictures taken).

Trans people received most of the applause in the conference.

The interesting empirical studies presented by other speakers fell under the following heads (I could not attend all talks as we had parallel sessions on the first day):

  • General studies on samples from specific regions in South India.
  • Representation of trans people in the media.
  • Analysis of secondary data.
  • Problems of trans children
  • Clinical Studies on mental health
  • Effect of Policies and
  • Caste and trans communities

The last subtopic was not covered in any depth, but speakers did mention that indigenous gender non conforming/cultural groups were divided on lines of caste.

Some studies focused on poor use of mobile phones by indigenous gender non-conforming/cultural groups, some on socio-economic aspects, some on political and others on intra community social dynamics. Spandana's clinical study confirmed that trans people in general have lower levels of self-esteem and mental well being than cis people. There were 125 papers in all and at least 75% of these were presented (of course, I am not going to cover much in this report).

The number of theoretical papers were less and presentations that I attended included the following:

  • Evolution of the terms Transgender and Transexuality (not comprehensive)
  • Gender Diversity and
  • Deconstruction of the concept of gender (queer study perspectives).

Trans men were all missing at the conference. That says a lot about the patriarchy.

As far as differences between states is concerned, Tamil Nadu is ahead of others - trans people can get even their birth certificate and school records modified to reflect the gender they identify with - other states and universities are still unclear on updating old records. The literacy statistics of Kerala is inaccurate because trans people and people with disabilities were excluded from the survey.

Funding for the seminar was apparently limited, but more efficient use could have been used of the spent resources. It was obvious that organizational responsibilities could have been shared in a better way. Logistics part of the seminar was not good - outstation participants were expected to find their own way. Student volunteers had to do a lot of work - their work load should have been reduced.

Whatever it was a nice conference conference as it brought together a wide spectrum of people from academia and outside for fruitful interaction.

Note: An edited version of my Paper (another version is at RG) can be found at Feminist-India site and the slides of my talk can be found at Research-Gate.

Rate my blog at Susan's Place Trans Resources