The maternal instincts of transgender persons makes them adopt children but negotiating their motherhood through law and society is an uphill task
- Kingkini Sengupta
It’s five months since the Supreme Court decriminalised Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and made rainbow of genders a part of our lives. Transgender persons began to make their presence felt too but there is one area which remains in the dark. That's parenting by transgender persons. Yes, transgender parenting exists because sometimes acceptance and love can do what law does not allow.
"My child calls me ‘Papa, mummy’ both," says a Rupali, a 45-year old transgender whose main source of income is sex work. She lives and works in the 10th lane of Kamathipura, the sex work district in Mumbai. For official purposes, including her identity documents, she is Vinod Kumar Bajpayee because she was certified thus. It does not interfere with her parenting the three year-old Pooja. She wishes she could legally adopt Pooja as her own but the law does not allow her that. Even NGOs working in the sector do not recognise the children of transgender parents as worthy of attention and care.
But law and legality did not stop Rupali from being a parent. Her motherly instincts made her take that bold step anyway nearly three years ago when her friend, also a sex worker in Kamathipura, decided to get married and move on in life. It was then that Rupali adopted Pooja from her friend, who was another sex worker in the same area and gave her the name of Pooja Bajpayee. Rupali is not the only one. Her friend Shabnam too adopted a child, Shiba, from her sister-in-law. Shiba was only two years old then. Shabnam did not want to bring her to the dark alley lanes of Kamathipura and now lives with her family in a village in Uttar Pradesh. Shabnam has been detected with HIV and would prefer that her daughter has a stable life back home.
The local police is unaware of "adoption" by transgender persons though Rupali insists that lawyer Hasan Ali from the Bandra court has all the documents for Pooja’s adoption. Hasan Ali prefers to keep details of Rupali’s case to himself as he states that it is a highly complicated one and needs to be maintained in all respect. Rupali had, in fact, adopted another child earlier, Faizaan, who was a few years older than Pooja, He was unfortunately killed in a fire that began as a result of a dispute in their Nalasopara home.
The concerns and sentiments that Rupali and Shabnam have are the same as that of any other parent. ‘We are the third gender and hence we are still not given any respect but that does not mean that my child does not love me’, says Rupali. Pooja means the world to her and inspite of being in the boarding school for the whole week as soon as it turns Saturday Pooja returns to spend time, play and eat endless chips and chocolates with Rupali. It is their mom-child time together. "Transgenders do not love differently, they are more affectionate and motherly than many mothers," says Rupali.
Since transgender persons cannot officially adopt, they adopt under the identity of a man, usually using their Aadhar documents for the purpose. Often, as in Rupali's case, their families are aware of the adoption and parenting, and take pride in this. And this is inspirational to others in the transgender space. Shabnam mentions that she got the inspiration to adopt a child from Rupali's story. "It is ‘our motherly feelings’ that make us want to have a child, to be able to bring them up and spend our wealth on them," she says.
The stumbling block for transgenders can come in the form of their families or the owners of their tenements. Landlords and landladies are not always welcoming of the idea. Rupali was fortunate in that her landlady was happy to have Pooja in their house and admires that Rupali loves and takes care of Pooja with devotion. ‘There is no harm in taking a child from a poor household and bringing it up as one's own," says Rohima Begum, the landlady who shares the room. She knows of four cases of "adoption" by transgenders, one in the 11th lane of Kamathipura and three in suburban Nalasopara.
Varsha, another transgender, adopted a girl even before the child was born. When the child's biological mother was only into the fourth month of her pregnancy, Varsha worked out the details with her. Jannat, the happy girl, is now three and a half years old, studies in Wonder King School near 13th lane in Kamathipura where Varsha lives. Varsha has been married for 14 years now.
"I do not feel like Jannat is an adopted child at all...she is the reason that I want to live long, get old and be looked after by her," says Varsha. As with other transgender parents, Varsha is fiercely protective of the child and the adoption, and claims that she has all the papers needed. She and her man friend refused to show any of the "adoption" documents because they had concerns about it all, but the paperwork does not make a difference to Varsha. For all practical and maternal purposes, she is mother to little Jannat.
What are their concerns as parents? The same that any other parent would have and, additionally, that the children should have enough money to tide them over till they are old enough. Vicky Shinde, a transgender activist working with the Shiv Shakti Foundation, is an example. She wants to "adopt" and bring up a daughter but insists that she will only do so when she has enough resources. She narrates the story of her friend and inspiration, Vini, who reared a son and recently got him married. Vini’s son has a good job and now lives happily with his wife.
Often, their expectations from the children are the same that other parents would have. Rupali's daughter Pooja is expected to look after her and her friend Shilpa, who also lives in Kamathipura, when they both grow old. "Pooja is also like my own, she will look after me along with Rupali in our old age," she says.
Adopting children may not be legal for transgenders in India but many transgender persons are bringing up children as their own, willing to spend their money and time to raise them, with the fond hope that the children will look after them in their old age. From the rest of the society, all they ask is understanding and acceptance of their children and their roles as parents. All they ask from their children is love and affection that any parent would.