You go Banu! Meet the First Transgender to Ace an Engg Seat in TN
A recent Hollywood release, The Danish Girl, is a story of a man in the early 20th century, who discovers his feminine identity and faces the brunt of a society who thinks it abnormal. Einar Wegener, a successful landscape painter, lives with his wife in an affluent Europe, wanting of nothing and yet dying within – of a need to transform into the woman he believes he is.
Apart from a loving wife and a friend, he is lonely, an outcast and a misfit as perceived by society.
It is now close to a century and India’s transgenders feel just as alienated as the European artist back then. Ask Grace Banu, a brilliant transgender woman from Tamil Nadu. Banu has faced every kind of struggle that one can think of, and yet, pulled off every battle convincingly.
Today, she is probably the first transgender engineering student in India.
How Banu Navigated the Heartbreak From her Family
Even after scoring 94 percentage in a diploma course in engineering, the Tuticorin native failed to get through a government college. Banu underwent counselling at Anna University for engineering courses through a lateral entry, and finally got admission in electrical and electronics engineering (EEE) at the self-financing Sri Krishna College of Engineering in Arakkonam.
Currently in her third year of college, Banu’s personal life has been even more tumultuous. Having studied in an all boys’ school, Banu could always feel she was different. From enacting the girl’s part in school plays, liking sarees to being propositioned by a classmate, she went through a whirlwind of emotions before concluding she was in fact, not a male.
Banu was then asked to either leave school or come after school hours to take classes.
As the final year of school approached, she requested her parents to accept her true identity but they refused. When she suffered from depression, they put her in a mental asylum to ‘correct’ her. Finally, when everyone she cared for, wanted her gone, she left home and took refuge in one of the many transgender associations in Tamil Nadu.
Studying Like a Champ
Her adoptive mother from the transgender community paid the fees for her diploma course in engineering – which she passed with flying colours.
Later, she was placed in a software company in Chennai but joined work as a male to escape discrimination. “But people got to know and I was forced to leave. I requested the MD of the company to reconsider as I was an asset to the company,” she says.
In the following days, Banu took a personal loan of two lakh rupees to get her reassignment surgery. She went back to the job but felt the prejudice sting her all day long.
“So I went back to what I love doing most, studying. I will do my post-graduation as well. I have fought the good fight,” she says. Along with her comrades, Banu has protested and taken a beating for transgender reservation and for them to be able to appear for the public service commission exams.
How Can You Help Banu?
And yet 26-year-old Banu has no life of her own. Cooped up with friends from her community in a small house, she isn’t able to rent her own place. Her money has dried up – with no support from parents or willing employers. And she will not take to begging or prostitution. There is a crowdfunding page on Milaap that is raising funds for her study material, house rent and miscellaneous expenditures and she waits for the day when she can be respected for her brain and not her sexual identity.
While she feels blessed for the strides she has made, success would have been sweeter with the family behind her.
(Runa Mukherjee Parikh has written on women, culture, social issues, education and animals, with The Times of India, India Today and IBN Live. When not hounding for stories, she can be found petting dogs, watching sitcoms or travelling. A big believer in ‘animals come before humans’, she is currently struggling to make sense of her Bengali-Gujarati lifestyle in Ahmedabad.)