She said she wants to lead a normal life like other people
Born and raised in Rajbari, Tanisha Yeasmin Chaity has become the first transgender official in Bangladesh's state-run human rights watchdog – the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Chaity’s journey was not smooth by any means, including her arrival in Dhaka, obtaining a standard job, and building a safe life.
Chaity joined NHRC as an executive on July 1 as a part of the organisation’s plan to accommodate marginalized groups of society.
“The journey was not an easy one. I was by born a male child, but at the age of five, I began realizing that I wanted to be a girl. Afterwards, when I was 11-12 years old, I started changing myself despite the fact that it was not accepted by my family,” Chaity told the Dhaka Tribune.
According to Chaity, she felt something inside, but was unable to make her family understand it.
“I was the only male child of the family, and thus my parents were not ready to accept these changes. Their attitude towards me changed, and they kept trying to demoralize me. When the pressure became overwhelming, I left my home for the first time to look for people like me in the transgender community—where I would feel safe and accepted,” she said.
When she was only an eighth grader, Chaity travelled to Jessore, about 100 kilometres away from her hometown, so that the family would not find her. However, the community she found there was not what she was looking for.
The hijra community where Chaity received shelter was engaged in collecting large amounts of money from shops, establishments, and houses where a child had been born.
“I wanted to lead a normal life as a transwoman–a life with mental peace. I was not transgender by birth, and I did not like the strategies members of that community were using to raise money. So, I realized it was neither a good choice, nor a good life,” she said.
Chaity wanted for a better life, and thus returned to her home and joined a school to get an education. She completed her Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) exams while living at her house. During that time, she would sometimes go to members of the community to collect money—when required.
After her HSC, Chaity started working with non-government organisations that work with transgender people.
In 2007 Chaity came to Dhaka to work for the Bandhu Social Welfare.
“I grew my hair long like a girl’s, but whenever I needed to go back home, I had to cut it off as my family always wanted me to be a boy,” she said.
In the meantime, she enrolled herself in an honours course at a college in Rajbari, but failed to continue there because she exhibited more female characteristics but was there as a male student.
“So I left the job and shifted to Dhaka permanently in 2009. In 2013, I was admitted into a degree program at Bangladesh Open University,” said Chaity, now a final year student.
In the meantime, she worked with many different NGOs, including icddr,b.
Recently, I was notified by Bandhu Social Welfare Society that NHRC will appoint executives, so I applied, and got the job.
“I am excited. It is a new beginning for the entire transgender community,” she added.
After the job was confirmed, Chaity's family accepted her. She now sends money to her family as she is the only male child of the family and has the corresponding societally-determined gender-based responsibilities.
The human rights worker said she wants to lead a normal life like other people.
“Hijras should lead lives as normal people, and the attitude and mindset of society has to change in order to ensure that hijras do not have to do what they are forced to do for money,” she said.
Hijras, who are neither male nor female, were officially recognized in 2013. They are often neglected and looked down upon by the people. The exact number of hijras in Bangladesh is unknown.
According to a survey by the social welfare ministry, there are about 10,000 hijras living in Bangladesh.
NHRC Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque said: “This step was taken as part of NHRC’s commitment to promote and protect human rights. Chaity is now a front desk executive at NHRC. We believe our initiative will encourage other institutions – both governmental and non-governmental – to promote the rights of vulnerable members of society.”
NHRC has also recruited two disadvantaged persons.
Rounok Jahan Usha is a physically challenged woman who graduated from Dhaka’s Eden College despite all obstacles. She has been working as a call centre executive from July 1, 2018.
Another employee, Mita Khatun, is also physically challenged, and completed her master’s degree at Kushtia Government College. She is also working as a call centre executive.
Mita told the Dhaka Tribune: “I tried hard to get a job, but could not find one. I grew frustrated, but now I feel honoured to have gotten a job at NHRC. I believe that I got a great opportunity, and a chance to represent the disadvantaged population of the country.”