New Delhi: Rishikesh Raut, a 23-year-old non-binary transgender person from Pune who goes by the pronouns they/them, has recently become the target of a wave of online abuse.
Since the advent and spread of online fundraising tools, several trans persons have started fundraisers to get financial support for their gender-affirming surgeries, care, housing and other basic needs. Raut too started a fundraiser on the platform Ketto in March this year, hoping to raise money for gender-affirming care.
According to the 2011 Census, there were a total of 4.88 lakh transgender people in the country. Given the widespread discrimination and stigma they face, they often have trouble meeting their basic financial and socio-economic needs.
When Raut shared their fundraiser on Instagram for the second time, on June 8, it garnered a fair amount of attention. And with the attention came the trolls – using transphobic slurs, telling them to “stop begging and get a job” and even misgendering Raut.
“I feel like they target my confidence and want to break me as a person. They feel scared that a trans person is confident and is occupying space in society. They don’t want that; they find me disgusting,” Raut told The Wire. “It’s very sad, but they feel I’m not equal, that I’m disgusting, that I’m a creep. There have been horrible threats. But I will still occupy this space.”
Raut is from a Bahujan family; their mother runs a small ironing shop and their father is a personal driver. They worked various full-time jobs since they were 17, and say they were discriminated against and alienated at all of them.
Raut previously worked at three multinational companies. “At each of them I faced transphobia, homophobia and misogyny, which is why I couldn’t work there anymore.”
Raut says their family could not understand them and often made transphobic and homophobic decisions. They were even put through conversion therapy. As a queer activist, Raut has been working with Mist, an LGBTQIA+ collective in Pune, for five years now. “I have been working towards creating safe and creative spaces for the queer community and sensitising people while spreading awareness.”
Sanchayita (they/them), a trans rights activist and friend of Raut’s from Silchar, Assam, told The Wire, “There is no safe place for trans people in India, neither outside nor on social media. What Rishi is facing is a testament to the rampant transphobia perpetuated and supported by the majority population. Bigotry like this leads to dangerous legislation like the trans Bill.”
The post’s comments section, though filled with support, is littered with trolls who constantly misgendered Raut, invalidated their situation and even called them “lazy” and a “scammer”.
“People believe that trans people are not trustable, or that we make a lot of money through sex work or begging. They think we have loads of money. It’s very sad to see that they don’t understand. Whatever money trans people earn from sex work goes to rent, self-care and gurus,” said Raut.
Replying to one of the trolls’ comments, they wrote, “It’s sad to see (even) cis-gay men harassing transgender people. You have been here in my comments every day, harassing and vilifying me. Shame on you!”
They received a number of direct messages on the social media platform, filled with hate and abuses. “Transphobic? Yeah, I am. What are you going to do about it?” one of the messages, sent as a reply to Raut’s Instagram story, read.
“The current situation with the trolls is getting worse. From transphobic harassment, the comments have now changed to wishing me death. People are even tagging right-wing accounts.” They worried that “the right-wing accounts, troll pages and meme pages being tagged might take my fundraiser and vilify me more”.
Raut is not the first person to face backlash for a fundraiser. Siddharth Gope (he/him), a 23-year-old trans rights activist from Tripura, Agartala told The Wire, “From the very beginning, when my fundraiser got a lot of shares on social media, I started getting a lot of hate comments.” He went on to describe the slurs he had received because of his fundraiser. “They even slut shamed both my girlfriend and I. Aur bhi bohot gande comments aye the, abhi to yaad bhi nahi aa rahe. In fact, pure DMs bhar gaye thhe (I got a lot of more filthy comments, I can’t even remember them now. In fact, my DMs were full).”
A 21-year-old trans activist from Bangalore (he/him), who wanted to remain anonymous, spoke to The Wire about his personal experience with fundraisers online. “Two of the main things I faced were (1) People saying that gender affirming surgeries are not a necessity, and that I should not be asking for help with ‘purely cosmetic procedures’. (2) Saying that the amount I am raising is very little and that I should ‘get a job’.”
“These are complete strangers who know nothing about me and my life,” he said. “Gender affirming surgeries are a necessity to many trans people because without it, we suffer a lot from dysphoria. Living every day in a body that feels alien to us is not fun.”
When asked who they think these trolls are, Raut said, “I’ve noticed that most of these trolls are cis-het men, but some of them are obviously women. They don’t understand empathy, decency or anything.”
“These things started coming after influencers like Kusha Kapila, Ankush Bahuguna, Anjali Chakra and Siddharth Batra shared my post,” said Raut. “When these people shared my fundraiser, that’s when I started getting these trolls. The same people who troll them for being a certain way, came to my account and started trolling me too.”
“It started with people having 50-100 followers, and then people with 1,000 followers came in. Now, people with 7,000-10,000 followers are harassing me, some meme pages with 50,000 followers have also been commenting on the post.”
The Supreme Court’s National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) judgement gave transgender people “third gender” recognition in 2014. But liberation – from stigma, threats and even violence – still remains out of reach.
“They don’t want me to stand equally in the world,” said Raut. “But I will make sure that I fight for myself and the community.”