In a first for any political party across the country, the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on October 5, 2020, set up a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) cell. The party thereby fulfilled the promise in its manifesto released ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly elections held in 2019. The cell was formally launched by the party's state unit chief Jayant Patil and party MP Supriya Sule. Sule, who has raised issues with regard to the rights of the LGBT community in the Lok Sabha and spoken about the rights of transgenders and sought their inclusion in the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019, had taken the initiative for the formation of the cell.
The 13-member cell, which aims to address LGBT issues and bring them into the mainstream, is headed by Priya Patil. The 34-year-old, who was thrown out of her house at a young age for being transgender, had unsuccessfully contested the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections in 2017. In 2019, the determined Patil joined the NCP and began addressing core issues of the community such as unemployment. She aspires to represent the community at the highest level and is working towards her goal.
In a candid conversation with the Free Press Journal, Patil opened up about her childhood, her motivation in life, future plans of the LGBT cell, and more.
Priya Patil's mother throws her out at a young age:
"My life totally changed after my father left us when I was 9 years old. At 11, I started doubting my sexuality. People started identifying me differently. They used to tease me, call me names. I didn't have any siblings to confide in. I wasn't able to share anything with anybody. And it started affecting me mentally. Meanwhile, I made friends with a few transgenders and began bunking college and going out with them. This all happened when I had completed my Class 10 and started going to junior college," Patil said.
Patil's mother then got to know about her sexuality. She wasn't ready to accept that her son was transgender. She hit her and she threw her out of the house. "For five days I was sitting outside the house. The neighbours used to bring me food and I used to sleep on the terrace. Later, my mother called her brother and said she would drink poison if he doesn't get rid of me. My maternal uncle asked me to leave and without any clothes or money, I left. I knew my father lived in Aurangabad, however, when I reached I got to know he doesn't live there. I had no other option and came back to Mumbai. I lived on the Virar railway station platform for more than a year. I used to beg for food and sleep in the Surat shuttle at night," she added.
Priya Patil makes friends with fellow transgenders:
"Geeta (name changed) was the first person in my life who inquired about me and asked me about my problems. My life would have been different if anyone from my family had asked me the same. Geeta asked me to move in with a friend of hers and I obliged with some hesitation," Priya said.
When Priya moved in with members from her own community, her life changed drastically. They gave her a new name and then she began going along with them to beg for money at shops and 'badhai' visits to families during auspicious occasions like childbirth and marriages also started.
"In the meantime, I understood that my life wasn't meant for begging and giving 'badhai' visits. I became determined to study further and then enrolled myself at Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University (YCMOU) to complete Class 12. I also began volunteering in social work after pursuing a 6-month course from Nirmala Niketan College. Later, I took up a counselling course and also completed a diploma in social work. Now, I am pursuing my graduation in psychology from SNDT Women's University," Patil added.
Priya Patil's political innings:
Patil has been working as a program manager at an NGO 'Kinnar Maa Ek Samajik Sanstha' for over 5 years now. While working she also had to frequently visit the Mantralaya and other government offices. These visits were an eye-opener for Patil. She understood that she needs to be in close contact with these policymakers to bring about a change.
"I knew I had to be in politics to make a difference and so I decided to independently contest the BMC elections in 2017. I wanted to contest from my home ward of 163 but it was reserved for the OBC category. So, I decided to contest from the neighbouring ward 166 in Kurla East," Patil said. She said during the campaigning people used to gawk at her. A few, she said, were not open to accepting a transgender candidate while many others were supportive. "It was a great experience, more positive than negative," she added.
Priya Patil joins NCP:
Patil met Sule at a function of 'Ekal Mahila Sangathan' (Single Women Organisation). She was the speaker at the function and presented her view that transgenders should also be included in 'Ekal Mahila'. Later, she began working with the Baramati MP for the transgender community through Yashwantrao Chavan Pratishthan. And then she officially joined the NCP on March 8, 2019.
Patil said her reason behind joining politics was the death of her friend. Narrating the incident, she said, "I had a friend who used to beg in the trains. One day, when she was begging, police began running after her. She hid at the top of the goods train in Kalyan as police were searching for her. When she was about to get down, she was electrocuted by an overhead wire." This incident moved Patil and she began looking for the reason for her death. "Was begging her fault as she was unemployed? Was it her parents' fault for leaving her because of her identity? or Was it the fault of the government for being able to provide employment opportunities for the community?" Patil began questioning herself. It was then Patil vowed to strive for her community and she joined politics.
Future plans of NCP's LGBT cell and the way ahead for the community:
"I had given a letter to Sule in August last year and demanded the formation of an LGBT cell in the party. Sule, being vocal about the issue in the Parliament, didn't waste any time and arranged a meeting with Jayant Patil. After a couple of meetings, the structure of the cell was formed and it was announced in October last year," said Patil.
Other than bringing the LGBT community into the mainstream, Patil said the goal of the cell is to encourage the participation of the community members in the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections. "We have a right to vote, then why can't we ask for votes. Politics is the only thing that can bring about a change for this community," Patil said. "The country needs youngsters to bring about a change and in Maharashtra only, the LGBT community is around 8-10%, most of whom are well-educated," she added.