• Manas Pratim Sharma

Beyond Gendered Boundaries

Swati Bidhan Baruah was appointed the first transgender judge of Assam and erstwhile Northeast India and only the third persona to have achieved this feat in the country. 

Belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, often marginalized and discriminated against; she has never let anyone cause a barrier in her endeavors. She has always been dreaming big in life and acted responsibly to achieve these feats. A commerce graduate from West Gauhati Commerce College, she then went on to pursue a course in Company Secretary and Law from The Institute of Company Secretaries of India (ICSI) and University Law College of Gauhati respectively.

She now plans to work aggressively towards empowering the Transgender Community. She believes that transgender, especially the eunuch community, are more marginalized than the rest of the LGBTQ+ community and face many more struggles. Recently, she also played an important role in the panel that uplifted the Internet Shutdown in the state of Assam inviting greater attention towards her as a public figure in the state. She has from then on been working as a social worker creating awareness and educating people. Fourteen of her workshops have been in police stations, for a change. She can arguably be called a real patron of change in society.’

Recently, a member of our society had a chance to meet her in person and here is the conversation that followed;

Manas: Ma’am starting with a very basic question, you may as well choose not to answer it due to the personal position that these stories may hold, but I would like to know a little about your family if you found support from them when you decided to come clean?

Ms. Baruah: Yes, this probably is the most frequently asked question I encounter. However, I will let you through some of my experiences. If someone follows me s/he would know that I decided to undergo a sex reassignment surgery in 2012 and was on the news to have had strong opposition from my family. Before that when I hit puberty my tendencies of dressing up and putting on make-up had always been a problem, I was at times locked in a room with two square meals. Now, times are different and I hope they are happy about the position I am at, though a broken thread can only be rejoined by a knot, the knot tends to stay, that’s the most I would speak of my family life but I hope that I could someday make them proud.

Manas: Surely Ma’am, the amount of conscious you are spreading, you are not just a matter of pride for your family but for this whole lot of generation who tend to call themselves progressive. Moving on, Ma’am I have always been fascinated by your stories at the workplace, could you tell us something on similar lines?

Ms. Baruah: Surely, the workplaces I had been in have always been my pillars of strength, these are the places that have built the Swati that you see today. From being offered one night stands to being appreciated for what I did. The workplace environment for me has always been dynamic and overwhelming. Manas, you must have seen that I am always accompanied by some of my juniors or assistants wherever I go, these people are not just co-workers but these people are my family now.

Manas: On that note Ma’am, could you polish a little upon the social worker Swati and not the career-oriented Swati for us?

Ms. Baruah: Social working for me started with my experiences in my home. I believe that all emotions and feelings are equally valuable and must be respected, it’s not always important to equate them with others’. So whenever I approach social work it’s not the transgender activist Swati, of course, that’s a big part but there is so much more to it. I like being socially active on all aspects be it politics or even the teenage depression. I have extensively worked with students and growing adults because these are the times they need the most attention. I want people to be empowered enough that they don’t hesitate in coming up clean about what or how they feel, I believe an informed and empowered society is what would bring about a positive change in the longer run.

Manas: Ma’am, you were recently again on the headlines for having played a major role in uplifting the Internet shutdown in the State, could you brief us a little on the same?

Ms. Baruah: I was on the panel with senior counsel Jayna Kothari and other petitioners. Fighting the case wasn’t very difficult because the court accepted the decision being absurd and also it wasn’t very legal of the government to disrupt the internet. However, the major problem was not fighting the case but making the Government implement it. The court orders weren’t obeyed for as long as 3 days, even after formal notices being issued by the court to the Chief Minister.

Manas: Lastly Ma’am, if there was one advice or a message you would give out to the Youth of Today what would it be?

Ms. Baruah: Be who you are and do not hesitate to speak up. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is one of the series I shift to in order to let of the huge work stress that I usually have every evening. There is this beautiful quote by one of the central characters called Captain Raymond Holt, “Every time a person decides to stand up and say who he really is, this world becomes a little better place to live”. I am a firm believer. There may be times you don’t feel very secure about the things you feel but speaking up for things you want is the best thing one can ever do. Let us look at this differently, for example, you have a goal to achieve, will working for it increase your chances of achieving it or doing nothing about it thinking you would never get there do it for you? Think about it.

Manas: Definitely Ma’am, that would be an important question for our readers to think about, thanks for leaving us at such a great note and for making time and talking to us. The state of Assam has already adored you as an Inspiration, there is not much time left for you to be an inspiration for the current generation given the pace and mentality at which you are moving forward. Thank you so much for your time, Ma’am.

Ms. Baruah: Thank you so much Manas, it was a great experience talking to you. I lend my best wishes to you and your team, I believe deliberative discussion is definitely the way ahead in today’s times. Kudos to Caucus for conducting such exercises at such ease. All the best!