India opens first school for transgender students

Daniel Uria
Sahaj International opened as India's first school for transgender students in Kochi on Friday. The school will take on 10 students aged 25-50 in its first year and teach preparation for India's Class 10 and 12 board exams as well as some vocational skills.Screen capture/IndianExpressOnline/YouTube
India opened a residential school to allow transgender adult dropouts to complete their education.
The school, known as Sahaj International, opened in Kochi on Friday as the first of its kind in the country, according to The Indian Express.
"The most important tool for the underprivileged, discriminated marginalised, oppressed community is education, because education brings light, knowledge, truth and confidence," transgender activist, writer and actor Kalki Subramaniam said.
Sahaj International will take on 10 students age 25 to 50 in its first year and teach preparation for India's Class 10 and 12 board exams as well as some vocational skills.
"The school aims at making transgenders eligible for taking decent jobs and living a dignified life," transgender activist and head of the school Vijayraja Mallika told the BBC.
The school is headed by six transgender individuals and a woman under the Transgender Foundation. It will also employ a pool of 60 trainers which including teachers, social workers, doctors and engineers.
"We have admitted six candidates so far, all male-to-female persons, from 14 applicants. Of the 10 seats, we have reserved one for female-to-male and one for the disabled," Mallika said.
India's Supreme Court ruled that transgender people have equal rights under the law in 2014, but many are still abused, shunned by their families and forced into poverty.
"Most of our biological parents don't accept us and because of this reason most of us are left on the street and forced to beg and do sex work," Kalki said. "This has to change if we have to change the destiny of those people who were abandoned by their families and who had lost opportunity to get educated."
Stigma surrounding transgender people caused the school to be turned away by hundreds of people before finding a location in Kerala, the first Indian state to adopt a transgender policy against discrimination.
"We approached some 700 people and 51 households, and all of them turned us away. They seemed to think that we were looking for space for prostitution," Mallika said.
She hopes the school will act as a "model center" that will allow for the creation of more facilities once the concept has proven successful.
"Kerala has some 25,000 transgenders, and 57% of them were forced to drop out of school due to stigma," Mallika said. "They all should get a decent accommodation the policy initiatives envisaged."
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