Why I left India

One line answer – I grew up in the old India. The new India that has emerged after 2014 is not one that I am comfortable with. There are the problems associated with being Gay/Trans in a conservative society. But there is another problem too. The new India chose to make populist, majoritarian choices and that makes me,  a post-op Transgender Christian woman VERY uncomfortable – to put it mildly! Let me explain!

It is not easy being Transgender in India. People point to one or two “success stories” like Sushant or Trinetra and say “Look! India is changing!”. It is certainly easier today than 20 years ago when terms like Trans and Dysphoria were not in the public discourse. But have things changed on the ground? Really?

You know what is common in all the “success stories” that people talk about to show progress on LGBT issues? They all had family standing by them in their journey! Being Transgender/Gay in India is easier if you have family and friends by your side through the process. Easier to find a place to rent, easier to make friends and move around in society, easier to find jobs etc. If you don’t have family and friends around you however, your choices become terribly restricted. And vast majority of Trans Girls are in the latter category! Most of us lost our families and friends when we came out as Trans and are forced to either live alone or get into a ghetto!

I was comfortably self-employed as an independent IT consultant “earning a Dollar income in a Rupee economy” as someone put it, so finances were not a problem. I didn’t really think Transitioning would be an issue for me in a Cosmopolitan city like Bangalore. But it is! It is hard to find a place to rent even in a place like Bangalore! My landlord seemed to be of a liberal, cosmo type. But he noticeably changed after he learnt of my transition. I had to find a new place to live and finding one proved a challenge! After having lived in one place for over 6 years, I had to change apartments 6 times in 2 years! Since I worked from home, losing an apartment also meant a loss of income! At one point, I actually had to keep my luggage and stuff in the stairwell and spend one night on a park bench in JP Nagar! That was the final straw when I decided to move out of India for Good!

Life in general is also easier if you are “passable” but that is something you learn to cope with! There are real practical problems too! I can live with the stares and the snide comments. But how do you go to a Washroom in a public place like a Mall or a Pub?

I was initially quite taken aback when I found my social circle being very supportive when I came out as Trans! But that was just a temporary phase! It soon turned Toxic, even Hostile!

What was my social life like before when I was living as a Gay person? I was part of various activity groups – I had a “wildlife group” which went on Jungle Trips, weekend off-roading group, biker groups, “Bangalore Malayalees” group and so on. Once I came out as Trans however, I found myself being “ghosted” from all social groups. I was no longer invited to Weekend Pot-lucks, meetups at various Pubs etc!

These were challenges but these were challenges I could try to learn to deal with! However there was also the problem of changing politics after 2014!

I grew up in a very different India! One where different cultures and religions found ways to get along! There were some hiccups for sure, but it was never openly Toxic the way it is now! Religion was never a factor in making friends. Cultural Diversity was celebrated! The only place where religion perhaps came in the way was Marriage! There was communal and gender bigotry before too but it was never so omni-present in the circles we moved in! It took the arrival of one Man to change that!

As a student of history, I watched the rise of Modi with alarm! The parallels with Nazi Germany were obvious to anyone who would bother to see! I was visiting Vapi in Gujarat on Business in 2002 when the state erupted in anti-Muslim riots. I saw our people going batshit crazy with hate! I saw autorickshaws fitted with loudspeakers doing the rounds blaring hateful speeches by Modi and a guy called Acharya Brahmabatt! And now this man is India’s PM?!

The fears were not unfounded! Those who don’t learn from History are condemned to repeat it! And that is the case with India today! The Nazi playbook is being replicated in front of our eyes! We would be idiots to pretend all is well!

The kind of things that could not be said before are now being said openly! The Toxic conversations are everywhere – Including in our bedrooms! I have seen biker friends who tatooed each others names on their hands and called each other “Brother from another Mother” now use the other as an example of “Love Jihad” – a classic Nazi Trope adapted for India! I have seen educated friends working in US companies use the most toxic language for Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Dalits! Its all around us, there is no escape! Its like, Modi’s elevation empowered the bigots to come out of the woodwork and spread their toxicity! WhatsApp has been weaponized to spread propaganda and this seems to have taken everyone’s collective IQ down to zero! And this virus has now spread and infected EVERYONE! My ex-Partner had “Sufi Atheist Liberal” on his Social Media profiles and used to write Urdu poetry – he still does! But now he also believes that “India is paying a ‘Democracy Tax’! 15 years of Fascist Dictatorship will turn India into a Superpower” – end of quote! And he is not the only educated person who now believes this! It is like a social insanity! The Breaking point for me was seeing educated Rocket Scientists (including my mother) bang Utensils outside their homes or Light Candles exactly at the appointed hour! Why? Because Dear Leader came on Television to command it! 😒 That was another point when I knew that it was Time to pack my bags and Leave!

In 2010, I went backpacking through Europe and one of the places I visited was a former Nazi concentration camp in Poland called Aushwitz-Birkenau. That hell hole has now been turned into a Museum. I was shaken by that experience. Reading about it is one thing, but seeing it in person is another! I asked my German Guide what ordinary Germans were doing when the Nazis were doing all this shit. Surely Not all Germans were Nazis? Why did they allow these horrors to take place in their name? He explained that it was a form of “collective insanity”! The use of propaganda combined with brutality can turn even otherwise decent Human Beings into murderers! I didn’t know then that I would see this “Collective Insanity” develop and grow just 3 years later in my own country!

What could I do? What were my options?! What did Germans do in the 1930s as Hitler rose to power? Some stayed to resist Fascism at the risk of death. Many Others who could, fled to safety, preferring to risk a dangerous journey to freedom than breathe the Toxic air of Fascism. Most however just surrendered to the Hate! “RSS is going to be in power for 100 years, might as well make a deal with Hate”!

That was never an option for me! I chose Option 2. I had seen what Fascism was doing to my Friends and Family and I was powerless to fight it. So I left! And I swore never to return to India as long as the RSS remained in power! Well meaning friends tell me that I should have planned my exit better! Maybe they are right! I could have…Perhaps!

You know I was stalked by a Man-Eating Tiger once?! This happened while I was a volunteer on a Tiger Census Project in Central India 20 years ago. I was blissfully unaware of it when it happened! I only found out about it later that night when the Forest Guards told me that a nasty mean limping tiger called Dhauna had been stalking me for over an hour while I walked the Fire-line that day and given a stern lecture to not forget my jungle training and be “more aware” of my surroundings in future! So I thought about it a little. What would I have done that day if Dhauna had actually attacked? There was the raging Banbeyi river ahead of me and a Hungry tiger on my back – how would I escape? Well, I think I would have taken my chances and jumped off the hillside into the raging river below. I might still be killed, but atleast there was a small chance that the River Gods would let me live! Because there was no way that Tiger would have spared me! That is how I feel about the current situation too – There is a man eating RSS on my back and the great unknown in front of me! Is there time to plan? Should I wait to see if this Tiger will attack? Or should I go over and offer him Biscuits from my backpack and beg for my life? Or, should I take my chances and jump?

I appreciate the well meaning advice! But I did what I felt was the right thing to do! My inner-voice was warning me to Flee to safety, and I listened! As they say in India, now it is Aar-ya-Paar! Do or Die! I do not know whether I will make it out of this situation alive! But I’d rather risk dying in search of dignity and freedom than live with Toxic Hindutva Fascism!

It is NOT A CHOICE! Leaving your own Home is Never a Choice! 😢

I want the life I used to have! Work hard for 11 months, then take a month off every year to go on a road trip to the Himalayas or backpacking through Europe or East Asia!

I have never chased wealth! Like in 1998 when I had to leave home, I am now just trying to survive, in my chosen identity. All I ask of the Lord now is an opportunity to live with Dignity! Life now is difficult, but I am a free woman!


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