The Trans Community and the Ashokan Myth of Progressiveness
By Shivani Deshmukh
Trans-friendly accommodation has been one of the many things that the student body has asked the admin for, only to be left sorely disappointed. At the beginning of the last academic year, students at Ashoka, led by the previous student government, were raising their voices for trans people’s accommodation on campus. A festering disappointment had boiled into anger. Over time, though, this anger dissipated for most, only harboured by those who were most affected by the archaic policies of trans housing on campus. Clubs and societies like the Feminist Collective, a few dispersed members of the student body, and trans faculty continued to work tirelessly for fairer accommodation for everyone.
Before the last academic year began, trans people (an umbrella term I will be using to address gender non-conforming, non-binary, gender-neutral, gender-fluid people) were promised accommodation of their choice – a gender-neutral floor, at the very least. Needless to say, this promise was not carried out. Initially, the admin agreed to the suggested reforms, but when students went to check up on how these requests were carried out, they were met with only disappointment – nothing had been done. Even as the monsoon semester began, no promises were carried out, and no reasons were given for it. As the next academic year begins shortly, there are still no updates from the Admin on the issue of trans friendly housing at Ashoka. Will next year’s batch be lucky enough to have more inclusive housing? There’s no way to know. It shouldn’t even be about luck, anyway.
Asking for trans inclusive accommodation is not an especially radical demand. When University campuses in India, such as TISS, have adapted themselves to help accommodate their trans students, there is no reason that Ashoka cannot follow suit. The admin’s reasons for not systemizing trans-inclusive housing are vague and blurry. On repeated questioning, the admin has blubbered a fair amount on “what would the parents think?” resonating with a strongly held desi belief – “what will society think?” It turns out that Ashoka is a free and liberal space – but not too free and too liberal, mind you.
The hypocrisy of the Admin on this situation cannot be left unaddressed. As we all know, Ashoka is becoming increasingly diverse on the gender and sexuality spectrum. Many consider it to be a safe space to explore and define their gender and sexuality. A vast portion of the student body, too, appear to be accepting – or at least not openly bigoted. The University itself advertises this open-mindedness and egalitarianism, boasting its commendable gender diversity on its social media handles. But this advertising of its student body is performative and meaningless. If nothing is being done to incorporate the needs of a diverse student body, what’s the point of advertising it?
Recently, on Instagram, Ashoka posted about its gender ratio, allocating a small percentage to the ‘gender neutral’ It is quite obvious why this sparked outrage. By advertising the transgender community on campus and not even doing as little as addressing them by a relatively more accepted term, ‘non-binary’, the admin at Ashoka blatantly implied that the diversity at Ashoka was no more than a tokenistic ploy, that the lived experiences, needs and demands of the community did not matter enough.
Another instance where Ashoka displayed its blatant ignorance for the trans community online was when professor Bittu was publicly deadnamed on Instagram. In both cases, comments by the students holding Ashoka accountable for its transphobia were deleted.
Both of these instances are only a few among many of the Admin being insensitive and ignorant towards the trans community on campus. It suggests that they were only using them as pawns to further their liberal and progressive ideals.
Assigning trans students rooms that do not align with their preference is extremely transphobic – there is no way to sugarcoat it.
Making space for trans-inclusive accommodation is only the first step. Gender-sensitization workshops, compulsory seminars, and more emphasis on self-identifying names, pronouns and genders are all well in the capacity of what the admin can do for the trans community. It is even surprising that we do not have an official committee that deals specifically with the wellbeing and needs of the queer community on campus – something that has been asked by queer students on campus repeatedly. An informal, student-lead club, the Queer Collective, is simply not enough. In the future, one can only hope that Ashoka employs professionals for the addressal of the grievances of the trans community.
For over a year now, groups of students have asked, then demanded, then practically begged for more inclusive accommodation. Ashoka has done little for the trans community. In a few cases, Ashoka has permitted trans-friendly reforms, such as installing gender-neutral bathrooms (A FemColl initiative) and has not fully opposed a trans-inclusive curriculum, but has done little on its own.
Ashoka’s performative progressiveness is more than just annoying. It is especially harmful to queer people on campus – it gives them false hope and a misplaced sense of safety and belonging. While doing nothing on their own for the trans community, Ashoka reaps the benefit of being seen as ‘woke’ for simply having trans students and faculty on campus. Beyond the bare minimum of providing trans-inclusive housing, there is a lot more that needs to be done by Ashoka for its trans community, starting with a commitment to do better.
How could I help the trans community?
You can donate to the ‘The Trans Solidarity Fund’, a fundraising project to benefit trans people undergoing Gender affirming surgery. It is by the AUQC and the Feminist Collective, in collaboration with various clubs and societies of Ashoka. Please check the Feminist Collective and AUQC Instagram pages for more details and fu