Editor’s Note: The following text is a transcript of the speech delivered by Dalit-Trans engineer and activist Grace Banu on April 10, 2021. It has been minorly edited for clarity by Nandita Jayaraj. Grace was one of the panellists at ‘Bias in Indian STEM’, a discussion panel organised by BiasWatchIndia and ALBA network as part of NeuroFemIndia 2021. Thank you to BiasWatchIndia and Grace Banu for granting us permission to reproduce this important message in this form. The featured image used in this post is by Siddhesh Gautam aka Bakeryprasad.
[Trigger warning: Mentions of misogyny, transphobia, caste atrocities, gender atrocities and sexual violence]
Being Dalit and transgender, it is super hard to get access to a public space. Public space is full of casteist Savarna people. Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim, trans, gender non-conforming and queer people are struggling everyday. Every day we fight with civil society, cis society, and even within our own movements, we have to fight with patriarchal people, upper-caste people, state governments and central machinery.
It is super, super difficult to access the mainstream platform. All the places are occupied by Savarna people.
International platforms and networks don’t care about listening to caste issues. We are struggling a lot.
Everyday the people of our communities face many discriminations—physical, mental and verbal abuse. There is no protection act for trans people. I have been in the activism field for more than 15 years. We have qualities and qualifications. We want to get education and employment.
In this country, we follow reservation, but even after 70 years, our trans community people don’t get basic human rights.
Everyday there is caste and gender violence. We, from Adivasi, Dalit, trans and queer communities, face so much oppression. Our struggle is going on every day. When we face atrocities, people from the civil society and feminist movements are staying silent.
You people always stay silent. That silence is an apartheid for us.
Break your silence. Because you people are also human, so are we. The colour of our blood is the same.
It is 2021 and caste is still everywhere. From higher to lower positions in the mainstream platform.
We have qualifications, interests, talents, but we don’t get opportunities because of our caste, gender, both.
When I entered school, the principal said ‘I don’t want you to sit with other people’. I had to come late and leave early. I could not speak to anyone, I could not enter the classroom. I had to sit under a tree. I was 15 or 16 years old. I knew about caste, but in that time I had to conform to my gender. Why was I having different feelings? That kind of trauma was there. At that time, these people oppressed me in the name of caste and gender. Only after a few years, did I realise why they were punishing me.
We are all beautiful, but when we enter the trans community, they see our body and say ‘she is fat’, ‘she is black’—they decide who will beg and who will do sex work. When Dalit and Adivasi people do sex work, we meet many upper-caste Savarna patriarchal men.
They torture us and our community.
Because we don’t have a chance. They easily identify our caste by our appearance. Then immediately their mindset goes to torture. You are a Dalit and you came for this – that torture is very painful. So many experiences I have had.
The mainstream and public spaces are occupied by the Savarna [and] cis communities. Even within the queer communities, we face caste discrimination. We are still excluded from your space. Think about who all are in international and national networks – mostly upper-caste upper-class people. Our community people are very very less. We don’t have opportunities.
We don’t have space – a SAFE SPACE.
It is an insecure space. Civil society people are ready to attack immediately.
That’s why I say everyday that we face caste and gender discrimination.
Because there is no strong act.
Because you people are always keeping silent.
Because you people are not ready to hear our voice. You are not interested.
Break your silence.
You can watch the whole panel discussion here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJnKhPHZmfM (Grace’s talk is from 29:57-45:12)
You can read Grace’s story in this comix by Sayantan Datta and Siddhesh Gautam: https://thelifeofscience.com/2020/10/02/grace-comix/