Abdul Rashid aka Reshma died on Sunday morning, bringing an end to a life of struggle. Reshma, a trans woman who achieved fame by singing at weddings, used it to highlight the struggles of Kashmir’s transgender community.
While Reshma is dead, she left behind a void in the community that is hard to fill. Reshma was forthcoming and talkative and knew the concerns and issues of her community and was sensitive about them. She represented the socially stigmatised transgender community of Kashmir and gave it a voice.
Reshma’s rise to fame was powered by social media, where the clips of her songs at wedding functions were extensively shared. This fame was not merely restricted to the life of Reshma but also brought the life and struggles of transgender community into wider public discourse.
Reshma, like any other member of transgender community, lived a harsh life which included stigma, ostracisation, abandonment by the family and lack of secure access to education and employment.
The transgender community of Kashmir has been living in a vicious recurring cycle. They live and die in the shadows; no one cares, no one sheds a tear for them, no one remembers their existence. Reshma is an exception.
Reshma’s death gives an opportunity to the people, civil society and the administration to make an outreach effort towards the transgender community and hear their concerns. The transgender community of Kashmir has a right to decent life and stable sources of income and employment.
There is a need for all the quarters of the society to respect the existence of people like Reshma. As a first step, the people in general should shun the attitude of disrespect towards the community. They should not be booed, taunted or stigmatized. Their existence needs to be accepted and respected.
There is also a need to create a conducive atmosphere in the schools where transgender students can continue their studies. Most of the transgender community members are forced to shun their studies at a very early stage as they face bullying and toxic atmosphere at the educational institutes. So there is a need to create an atmosphere of awareness and acceptability towards the transgender community within the schools –among students as well as teachers. This awareness will go a long way in helping young transgender students, who are still unaware about their gender identity, to continue their studies.
While the society at large needs to shun the stigma and stop the harassment of the third-gender community, the members of the community also need to step forward and take initiatives that can make them icons and trendsetters. Already, some members of the transgender community have made themselves look apart by becoming well-to-do fashion designers and makeup artists. The community, however, needs to set this goal itself that it would prefer and aim for more mainstream sources of employment that would make them venture into a more mainstream lifestyle.
Reshma’s life gave a glimpse into the struggle of Kashmir’s transgender community and her death should not close this window. Instead, her death should serve as an opportunity to the society to acknowledge the wrongs of the past and set the course for the rights of the future.
Her death should also serve as a wakeup call to the administration which has so far failed to take care of the transgender community. The administration’s failure vis-à-vis the transgender community is huge. Much as the blame lies on the society, a fair share of it lies on the administration as well for it failed to take any initiatives for social and economic security of the community.
In the periods of severe turmoil, when Kashmir would shut down for prolonged periods of time and marriages would be postponed, which brought transgender community members on the verge of penury and hunger, the administration showed no interest in their rehabilitation and uplift. While the socially or rurally backward classes and castes are offered reservations in educational and employment sectors, transgender community remains invisible to these offers. The administration’s welfare schemes are tailored in such a fashion that the members of the transgender community do not fit any of them.
The members of the transgender community continue to remain in a wretched state and no effort is being made from any quarter towards their betterment. Most of the older generation members of the transgender community earned their livelihoods by matchmaking, which made their lives dependent on the mercy and whims of an insensitive society.
A more pragmatic approach needs to be adopted. The community needs to be put on a path of education so that the next generation can chalk out a life for themselves. This should not be considered as a generosity towards the transgender community members. We owe it to them. It is their basic right.