Meet Naleena Prasheetha, the first transperson to get a graduate degree in VISCOM from Loyola College, Chennai. She has come a long way in challenging the accepted binary classification of gender. When asked about Loyola, a lighthearted Naleena exclaimed, “Idu namma veedu (it is our home),” She continued, “Loyola is like a mother’s womb. It nurtures its children without any discrimination. Everyone can grow in this womb, be it a man, woman or transgender. Jesuit fathers, brothers and the staff are like our mothers who not only recognise us but love us. I felt that I belonged and was loved in Loyola.”
I asked her what made her feel that she belonged and was loved at Loyola. In turn, Naleena narrated a trivial incident but one which she considers significant. “It was Fr Joseph Jacob’s birthday. I wanted to wish him since it was, he who admitted me to Loyola. As I saw a line of people holding bouquets and gifts, I felt embarrassed to have come empty-handed. As I was about to leave, suddenly I heard a voice behind me, “Naleena vaa ma, enga pore? (Naleena come in, where are you going?).” It was Fr Jacob. “I went in and he made me sit down and I wished him. It was his birthday, but why was I feeling important? These acts of treating me with respect took me a long way in my fight to assert the rights of the transgender community. Frs Samuel Jeyaseelan and Justin Prabhu were like my guides. I would run to them in times of difficulty. Fr Jeyaseelan even invited me as the chief guest for a program in the hostel. These simple acts helped me accept and celebrate my choice.”
“Before the Loyola experience, I was a shattered person. My family disowned me. Society treated me like trash. But Jesuits gave me the strength to feel that I belonged and was loved. Today, I proudly accept my choice to be a transperson. I have my struggles but with the love and support I receive from people like the Jesuits, I will overcome them.”
Though from a humble beginning, Naleena’s association with Jesuits has transformed her into a dauntless voice for her community. She is a visible symbol of how values like inclusivity and diversity can empower those that are less represented in our educational and other institutions. She is a classic example of the power of Jesuit accompaniment. As Jesuit administrators, formators and teachers let us learn to be more humane, and focus more on accompanying rather than disciplining our youth. Let us not regulate but form them. And one day we will find our fulfilment when they exclaim “idu namma veedu!”
The author is Professor of Philosophy at Satya Nilayam, Chennai, and currently pursuing Doctoral studies at XIM University, Bhubaneswar.