Supported by our Community Partner – ILGA Asia
Please tell us a bit about yourself
I, Gopi Shankar, was born in Sellur slum at Madurai, Tamil Nadu. I am an intersex and genderqueer person. At the age of fourteen, I started volunteering at the Ramakrishna Mission. In 2005, I was given spiritual initiation under the spiritual lineage of Swami Vivekananda by Swami Gitanandaji (former Vice-president of Ramakrishna Math and Mission) who is also a disciple of Swami Virajananda). In April 2010 I left Ramakrishna Math to pursue Religion, Philosophy, and Sociology studies at The American College in Madurai (affiliated to Madurai Kamaraj University). I have also been a student of Yoga for more than 15 years and served as Yoga Instructor for 5 years. The plight and situation of the SOGIESC community in India made me want to be an activist. I was awarded a Leadership Degree “Leading Change” exclusively for The Queen’s Young Leaders from the University of Cambridge in 2017.
Please briefly let us know about your work
I am the co-founder of Srishti Madurai, a student-run volunteer intersex rights movement. We started our work by representing the concerns of the SOGIESC community to the Schools and Colleges campuses and impacted a lot of schools and college-going children. Through Srishti Madurai, we also impacted a lot of medical professionals about intersex human rights. Without any outside support, we have run the student volunteer movement and worked with multiple fronts like journalists, judicial bodies and politicians. We were the first to work in the regional Tamil language. After English, Tamil is the only regional language in India that has terms for the SOGIESC identities. Currently, I am South Regional Representative to the National Council for Transgender Persons (NCTP), appointed by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment under the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019. As a representative to NCTP, I attend to the grievances of the SOGIESC community and gender non-conforming persons and work for their redressal.
What one achievement you’ve accomplished that you’re most proud of
Through my work and activism, we achieved the ban on non-necessary medical intervention on intersex infants and children in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu, having a population of approx. 80 million people, which is way more than many European countries. Drafting the most inclusive executive order to ban sex-selective surgeries in the State of Tamil Nadu was one of the proud movements. Even in western nations like the USA and many countries in Europe, such inhumane procedures are still not banned, however, our continuous efforts have made it possible in one of the states of India.
What do you find most challenging about your work
What I find most challenging is that, in the name of activism, few of our self-proclaimed community representatives worked with extremist and radical elements which is causing irreversible damage to the community members. The diverse SOGIESC community is not aware of the diversity within the community. Also, educating the community about the diversity within the community is a challenging issue. For instance, if a person is gay or intersex, it does not mean that the person knows about the challenges or practical realities of the whole community or the spectrum. Also, another major concern is that the approach used to redress the concerns or understanding the situation of the SOGIESC community is very Eurocentric and western, which should not be the case. Explaining people to follow a more Indian approach is another big challenge.
What do you do to recharge your battery
I prefer to start my day with Yoga. Also, being the South Regional representative for Five Southern States (having cumulatively 200.40 million people) to the National Council for Transgender Persons, I take up new cases to recharge myself and work for the redressal of the complaints efficiently and effectively.
What is your vulnerability and how do you overcome it
My vulnerability comes from the people who work for the community with a more Western approach. To overcome this challenge, I try to interfere in their work and break their hidden agendas. I always encourage the people working for the community to consider the context of India and its culture and follow a more humanistic approach. Another factor that makes me vulnerable is my health condition and the treatment for the same is ongoing.
What was your reaction to being named one of the honourees for the Community Hero category
I feel very humbled for being nominated in the Community Hero category of the Hero Award. The journey and achievements as an activist and service provider have been very challenging and without any support from outside resources. Being nominated in the Hero Award Category is a motivation and encouragement for the work I have done until now. I hope sometimes getting the attention for the work we are doing or had done in the past is not wrong.
Despite the fact that the COVID-19 is still with us, what is a message that you would like to share with the communities in the Asia Pacific
I would like to share that we are living in the era of social distancing but we have to travel more inside than outside. Our diverse SOGIESC identities are very important but are not the only identities in our life. We are advocating to respect and go beyond the identity and follow humanity. I request the communities to focus on self-care, spending time with themselves, and taking care of their health. The time is not certain and neither are the circumstances. There can be a time when you can face the worst situation or when the circumstances are not that good. The only thing which needs to be remembered is that you shall cope with the situation and not break down under pressure and this time too shall pass on.