Cool, composed and with quiet dignity, Disha told us why joining politics was the only decision that made sense to her so she could help the transgender community come out of the margins. She had the air of a person who knew the power of her voice and didn't shy from speaking to audiences at large. This was not unexpected, considering she is the spokesperson of a major political party - Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi in Maharashtra. Disha rightfully and proudly proclaimed herself to be "the first such person to be awarded this role in the state, maybe in India."
How long can you stay on the outside and wait for changes to take place?
This is precisely the sentiment that pushed Disha to enter the political foray. Disha realized the need to bring change from within the system. Her membership in a political party and her recent appointment to the Transgender Welfare Board has enabled her to communicate her community's needs to policymakers directly. Disha's objectives and immediate goals as a political representative have been to register members of the transgender community, identify members who need assistance with accepting and understanding their identity, introduce gender sensitization in schools, and establish open universities to allow them to finish their education.
She wants policymakers to leave the bubble they have surrounded themselves in; A bubble in which transgender people are not considered equal citizens and have no security. Their lack of consultation and inclusion of community members has resulted in a lack of actual affirmative changes like implementing reservation policies, safeguarding against atrocities, providing housing security, establishing child adoption policies, legalizing civil union, and mandating employer insurance for gender reassignment surgeries.
I should have the right to choose to live anywhere. How I want to live, with whom, is all my choice!
Disha Pinky Shaikh, who identifies as a woman, has always worked towards inculcating the values symbolized by womanhood. For her, it is not the conventional ways of dressing or sounding female, but the acts of compassion and the ability to see humankind with a lens of equality. Even though expectations from a patriarchal system and gender constructs forced Disha to leave her home and family at a young age, she found love and support in unexpected ways. It started with her involvement in the Satyashodhak Andolan, an LGBTQ movement, where a leader, Comrade Ranjit Pardeshi, introduced her to intellectuals and great personalities like Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. The ideologies of Ambedkar, whom Disha lovingly called Bhima, helped her shape her motivations in life and come out stronger from the depression she was in because of estrangement from her family. Her Project Manager at Manomilan Bahudishae Saamajik Sanstha, where she was a community outreach worker, and another close confidant, helped her through her transition process. During this time, all she could do was save some amounts from her monthly income to finance the procedure.
Her present Guru, Pinky Shaikh, whose name she attaches to hers, and her political party's leader- Prakash Ambedkar, both stand behind her firmly and guide her. Disha has gained numerous mothers and sisters, who give her constant love and support whenever she travels across Maharashtra. Her friends give her the safe space she needs to be herself, away from everyday worries and responsibilities, and to enjoy small things in life like long chats and "mast addas."
An avid writer and a poet, Disha has been writing for a long time. She first wrote for a newspaper in 2017 when the editor of a Marathi weekly called her to offer the opportunity. She has considered it her duty to reach out to the masses, whether through writing on social issues in the newspaper or by being a spokesperson of a political party.
The developments being made are the start of a muddy lane, which slowly over the years, will transform into a cemented highway.
For Disha, the road is long, but progress has started. Inclusion in a country like India is problematic, considering every human has to face the social "three-legged monster" of caste, class, and gender. She hopes that as and when the LGBTQ community joins the mainstream, the deeper layers of double and triple marginalization faced by females assigned at birth, Dalits, and Adivasis, can be addressed.
However, Disha ends on a positive note, saying she has seen a positive change in the way families now respond to accepting their children. She appreciates the respect she is getting, but she asks, "What about the respect owed to the transgender people standing at the traffic signals?"