This season of Bigg Boss, India’s answer to Big Brother, features celebrated hijra activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi. This isn’t a first for the show, which even in its first season starred transgender actress Bobby Darling; nor for Tripathi, who is a TV star in her own right, having been on programs like Sacch Ka Samna (the subcontinent’s Moment of Truth) and Raaz Pichle Janam Ka (“Past Life Secrets,” where participants go back to previous lives). Like its multiple international cousins, Big Boss places people in a house with constant cameras and no access to the outside world; viewers are exposed to controversial social issues, personalities, and identities walking around in their underwear. The latest contestant thrown out of the house complains of Laxmi,
“She wants to play her transgender card 24×7. She forever goes ‘mera beta’ ‘meri beti’ and one feels like telling her to shut up.”
That you can talk of “playing a transgender card” in India is probably a victory in itself. Strange that even in a country with its proud, independent, and distinctive cultural traditions, the bitching and backtalk and blahblahblah that go with reality shows are exactly the same.
Meanwhile, and more momentously, the Indian government announced that 12,548 transgender people across the country have already received the aadhaar, a new ID system designed to provide simplified, official proof of identity to every Indian. Many hijras have been unable to obtain state IDs in the past, because they lacked documents or their appearance clashed with their recorded gender. The aadhaar application form allows one to check “transgender” under “sex,” and applicants need not provide documentation of their identity if another aadhar holder will vouch for them. It’s a significant step toward ensuring that hijras, as well as other marginalized people including migrants and the homeless, can access full citizenship.
“In my early 20s I was dealing with my gender and also decided that I wanted a more Jewish life. Judaism has been so important for me because I felt connected, when not a lot else made me feel connected. When I first started my transition I did not know whether I would find a community that would welcome me.
“I did a lot of text-based study on my own. I loved that and it formed a big part of my life. I fell in love with how we work as a community to support each other and draw so much from these texts. …
“I’ve never had a negative experience within the community – people sometimes have no idea how to include me or help me, but they are always willing to learn, which is great. But as a community we still need to do more to educate about transgender people. …
“For me it’s not really about becoming Britain’s first trans rabbi, it’s just about doing what I want to do with my life.”