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(Trans)forming Science: Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming and Gender Non-Binary Persons in the Indian Science Ecosystem (Dissemination Presentation)



This project undertook a large-scale quantitative and qualitative investigation into the lived experiences of transgender, gender non-conforming and gender non-binary persons in the Indian science ecosystem. Towards this goal, the study used four key research methods: (a) applications under the Right to Information Act, 2005 to investigate the status of implementation of the legislative, judicial and policy documents that govern the access of transgender, gender non-conforming and gender non-binary persons to the Indian science ecosystem, (b) a policyscape approach to policy analysis to understand the effectiveness of the legislative, judicial and policy interventions that govern the access of transgender, gender non-conforming and gender non-binary persons to the Indian science ecosystem, (c) qualitative interviews and focus group discussions to understand the ways in which transgender, gender non-conforming and gender non-binary persons negotiate the Indian science ecosystem, and (d) a comparative historiography to understand and explicate the possibilities of political solidarity between different marginalised groups in the context of higher education in science in India, including caste-, gender-, and disability-marginalised groups. In this dissemination presentation, we will be sharing insights generated from this project.
(Trans)Forming Science:
Transgender, Gender
Non-Conforming and Gender
Non-Binary Persons in the
Indian Science Ecosystem
Sayantan Datta
(on behalf of Debomita Mukherjee, Shreya Sridhar,
Riya Parekh & Prajwal Gaikwad)
Faculty, Centre for Writing and Pedagogy
Krea University
(Former) Early Career Research Fellow
Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures – India
Project team
Debomita Mukherjee
Research Scholar
Centre for Women’s
University of
Shreya Sridhar
Psychology Majors
School of Interwoven
Arts and Sciences
Krea University
Riya Parekh
Biology Majors
School of Interwoven
Arts and Sciences
Krea University
Prajwal Gaikwad
Research Scholar
Centre for Women’s
University of
Sayantan Datta
Centre for Writing and
Krea University
Anand Grover
Bittu Rajaraman
Grace Banu
Kanmani Ray
Sunil Menon
Ayush Gupta
Bishal Kumar Dey
Satendra Singh
Sudarshan Kottai
Suraj Sanap
(aka Roxx Meena)
QACP-Trained Mental Healthcare
Saransh Bisht
Anushree Samant
Lavanya N
Asna Masih
Sarita Ramamoorthy
TESF-India and IIHS teams
Poonam Batra
Amir Bazaz
Simran Sadh
IIHS Word Lab
Project outputs
Policy Brief
Academic Papers:
1) Parekh, R., & Datta, S. (2023). Towards a (Trans)
Inclusive Science Higher Education in India: Notes
on Political Solidarity and Its Possibilities. OSF
Preprints, URL:
2) Datta, S. (2023). “Get Out of Class”: Queering
Infrastructure in Higher Education in India. OSF
Preprints, URL: (Manuscript
3) Datta, S. (2023). Towards a Trans-Armative
Higher Education in India: A Policyscape Approach.
(Manuscript submitted)
+3 underway
Good news!
Why science?
Practitioners of science are expected to hold views that are "in sync" the scientic method –
objectivity, rationality, positivism, etc. – and are detached from personal identities and
experiences. But at the same time, practitioners are eerily homogenous in their composition
(Bilimoria and Stewart 2009; Kersey and Voigt 2020)
Strict and uncritical categorization in science leads to construction of social identities as scientic
Science practitioners rarely evaluate social phenomena themselves (e.g. construction of identities),
which means they are also more prone to holding discriminatory views against trans, GNC and
GNB persons (Bilimoria and Stewart 2009)
Queer undergraduate students in STEM elds are 8% less likely than their straight cisgender peers
to remain in STEM, even when controlling for various characteristics determined to predict
retention (Pearson 2007)
Transgender persons in the Indian science ecosystem
Mockery and harassment in Indian science institutions
Medicalization and pathologization of trans persons through discriminatory curricula
Binary gender – segregated infrastructure
Publication "crisis": Several transgender persons come out later in their lives and choose a
name dierent from their birth name. This causes problems in maintaining a connect with
publications in their deadname, and trans people run the risk of losing academic credibility
Lack of bodies to deal with instances of sexual harassment and violence against transgender
Impact on mental health and the lack of armative mental healthcare
(Datta 2020, 2021)
Why science (higher) education: Violent Desires, Exclusionary
Tendencies & (Trans)formative Potentials
Science and engineering workplaces are hetero- and cisnormative; queer and trans people in these spaces face
hostility, microaggressions and increased surveillance and scrutiny (Bilimoria and Stewart 2009; Datta 2020)
Science education is constructed around borders that exclude marginalized voices, identities and experiences
(Gunckel 2009, Thomas 2020, A Subramanian 2019, J Subramanian 2020)
Science education often follows strict deductive principles and problematizes marginalized communities (Kersey
and Voigt 2020; Haverkamp et al. 2021)
Science education in schools may have the potential to become queer- and trans-armative with proper research
and training (NCERT Teacher Training Manual 2021 [withdrawn])
Queering science education can lead to new science - one that problematizes strict deductive principles, and
institutions, rather than problematizing marginalized communities (Kersey and Voigt 2020; Haverkamp et al.
Queering science can challenge the nexus between state, science and medicine, and civil societies in creating
‘marginalized’ gender and sexual identities, while providing new ways of kinship and community-building.
Four registers of negotiations
Nature and culture of science and science education
Curriculum and Textbooks
Armative action and anti-discrimination policies
Our questions
Trans* persons and science institutions
(questions of inclusion and access)
How eective are current legislative and judicial
interventions in making the Indian science
ecosystem more accessible to transgender persons?
What are the "gaps" in these interventions?
How might community-driven “transformation”
(as opposed to “intervention”) look like?
Trans* persons and the institution of science
(questions of identity and epistemology)
How do transgender, gender non-conforming and
gender non-binary persons negotiate science?
Is there a relationship between the identity of a
"scientist" and that of a "transgender person"? Can
these identities be co-constructed?
How do transgender persons negotiate various
communities and community-building eorts in
these institutions?
Can there be a "queer science"? What does such a
science look like?
Our methods
Policy Analysis
(Retrospective and Prospective)
Applications Under the Right to Information Act 2005
Qualitative Interviews and Focussed Group Discussions
n=59 n=60 n=65 n=59
Despite policy interventions, transgender persons continue to
remain under-represented in Indian (science) institutions
Our approach to policy analysis: Policyscapes (Mettler 2014)
Policies as sites of
policies as discourse
Precipitation of the
NALSA v. UoI judgement
2014 as a result of trans*
The eects of NALSA v.
UoI 2014 on trans*
organising (“policy
Who is “transgender”/ “third gender”?
What makes one “transgender”/ “third gender”?
The response of later policies to
NALSA v. UoI 2014
Response of ‘subjects’ of NALSA v.
UoI to the judgement and future
policies stemming from the
judgement (directly or indirectly)
Studying policyscapes helps us uncover the
underlying ideologies of policy interventions
and the attitudes of policymakers
Our policyscape
Science and
Policies for
the Rights of
judgement 2014
(Protection of
Rights) Act 2019
UGC Circulars
(2014, 2015, 2016)
Guidelines 2022
Education Policy
Draft Science
Technology and
Innovation Policy
Draft Scientic
Policy 2019
Some insights
Rhetoric of “inclusion” that resists transformation and furthers exclusion
Lack of (grassroots) community-driven policymaking
Policy eects:
Construction of a homogenous “mainstream” into which transgender persons must be absorbed
Hermeneutic injustice (Jain and Rhoten 2020) that shapes what one has to become to be included
Lack of affirmative action that enables ecosystem-level transformation and empowerment of transgender persons
in the science higher education ecosystem
Hermeneutic injustice
UGC Circular 2015-16: Gender champions to have “excellent”
understanding of sociocultural issues and prevailing gender norms. They
are to bring to the forefront “untold stories of extraordinary boys, girls,
and transgender [sic] who changed lives for women and girls.”
“Excellence” invokes “merit”
Ordinary-Extraordinary binary
The making of the extraordinary
and excellent transgender
Affirmative action
Putting armation back in “armative action”:
Enabling epistemic shifts
Disrupting the “normative discourse”
(Infra)Structural reform that unsettles hegemonic
discourse (which includes horizontal reservations)
Draft Science, Technology & Innovation Policy
2020: “renewed impetus to the mainstreaming of
equity and inclusion within the STI ecosystem”
LGBTQ+ individuals: “special provisions to
safeguard their rights and promote their
representation and retention in STI”
No specic “special provisions” mentioned
except one –
LGBTQ+ individuals will be eligible for “spousal
benets”, which include retirement benets, “to any
partner irrespective of their gender.”
Rights to identity v. Rights to (science) education?
Marriage as the great equalizer?
Link to download:les/ugd/d1a74d_25060e6ebb914c29a5c33a811415e
General recommendations (about policymaking
for the inclusion of transgender individuals in
[science] education)
Infrastructural recommendations
Curricular Recommendations
Policy Recommendations (the kinds of policies
and bodies a [science] institution must have to
enable the inclusion of transgender individuals)
Identity, Epistemology, Trans* Persons
the Institution/s of Science
Traditional/conventional model of science identity
Carlone and Johnson 2007
But is “science identity” detached from “social identity”?
Science and social identities are reciprocally constructed/
“This article traverses a journey of a person in science and
feminism, highlighting a trajectory in which her relationship
with science, its praxis, and its understanding, all
transformed as her engagement with feminisms also evolved.
The narrative highlights the change from a narrow
understanding of science and a career within it, to the
emerging multiple possibilities of being a person in
science—a change made possible because the feminist lens
shifts focus from the question of women in science to a
feminist understanding of science. The process, hence, results
in a slow inhabiting of the 'outsider' in a reimagined
landscape of the discipline.”
(Shah 2017)
“shifts” as epistemic shifts
(dierent knowledges and
dierent ways of knowing)
“inhabitation” of the
marginalized not detached
from (infra)structural reform
(reimagined “landscape” of
the discipline)
How do transgender, gender non-conforming and gender non-binary persons in the Indian
science ecosystem negotiate their various identities? What epistemic shifts and inhabitations
undergird these identity negotiations?
Stories and histories of transgender, gender non-conforming and gender
non-binary persons in science are under-represented
Autobiographical narratives are a way to understand not just the lives of
science practitioners, but also the discipline
Autobiographical narratives oer “an account of...enmeshed experience of
inclusion alongside marginalisation or discrimination” (Achuthan and
Chadha 2017)
Method: Qualitative interviews and FGDs to uncover
autobiographical narratives of trans* persons in the Indian science
Violent Desires & Exclusionary Tendencies
“The workload is pretty intense…For
me, I have around seven hours of
classes every day from Monday to
Thursday. And then I have four hours
on Friday…Most of my time, every
day, is spent in the classroom. If I
attend all classes, ideally all of my day
should be spent there. You end up
being left with no social life or no
sleep.” - Nyx, a student at an elite
science institutions (Bengaluru)
Gita Chadha: Construct of the scientific genius
distinguishes the scientist from a human being
and makes science aspirational. In making
science aspirational, it is made inaccessible.
Science classroom as restraining
“In my Bachelors, we approached the principal to ask for a
queer cell. I didn’t go as a queer person, but as an ally. Her
rst reaction was, ‘Queer students exist in our college? Do
they actually come to college to study?’” - D, a student in a
science institution
D: “Yes ma’am, they do. There are a lot of students I know.”
Principal: “Such students should come directly to the
authorities, rather than allies.”
Principal (later): “There are no such students. Moreover,
who will make sure that nothing anti-college and anti
government is happening through this forum?”
Principal (even later): “What if a student and a teacher start
Erasure as violence
What about the epic narratives of
the enlightenment that promise
anti-authoritarian challenges to
dominant narratives and practices?
Why are only queer-trans
associations policed, especially
when cisheterosexual individuals
routinely engage in sexual
harassment and abuse?
“During my undergrad years, a batchmate of
mine and I tried starting a queer collective but
as is the case with most engineering colleges, we
didn't really manage a lot of success. Not a lot
of students joined because they were very scared
of associating with a queer collective on
campus.” - Salaah, a student at an elite
science institutions (Bengaluru)
Pushpesh Kumar:Abjection” (Kristeva)
occurs in material sites where experiences
and expressions of gender, sex and
sexuality are embedded and contested
Research methodology teacher: There
are only two genders.
D: No ma'am, when you say two genders,
that's erasure. There are other identities
that are out there.
Teacher: No, according to me, there are
only two genders; anything else is a
deviant. What you're talking about is
called sociology, and life sciences does not
accommodate parameters like gender and
sexuality. We don't do that here.
Employment of subjectivity in an
objective” science classroom to bolster
violent erasure
Science Sociology
Normal “Deviant”
Included Excluded
“...So secluded were the science education and engineering
departments from these humanities departments that we didn't
really know that these things [studying identity formation, for
example] are possible....” - Morpheus, a faculty in a science
education institution
“So I transitioned from doing physics in an engineering
department, to doing education in a physics department. And
over time, I've come to see many of these transitions and
existing in these strange spaces within departments as also a
part of queerness. Being comfortable with doing education in a
physics department and constantly having to argue that there is
a legitimate place for you in there, it resonates and amplies the
experience of constantly having to argue with people that you
have a space in this world.” - Morpheus
Epistemic injustice (Fricker)
Inhabitation as
(queer) contestation
(Trans)formative Potentials
“Since I was living far from home, I didn't have to
pretend to be cisgender in any way.” - Salaah
“I was nally able to get away from my birth
family and get away from [birthplace] when I
came to Bangalore. In [birthplace], I was not
aware of the existence of queer groups because I
was living with my parents, and I was not allowed
to go out very much. Coming here was a very
dierent experience for me; I could go out on my
own terms, explore the city, and make friends
outside of academic contexts.” - Nyx
Science institutions as enabling migration
Migration as enabling exploration
Exploration as enabling dierent
“It started out as a temporary [WhatsApp] group
during the Trans Awareness Week in 2021. I was
handling the queer collective’s social media page,
and I wanted to post a couple of things. I wanted
the help and advice of other trans and gender
non-conforming folk on campus on what to post
and what not, without having the interference of
cis gay men telling us what is right and what is not,
so I made a temporary group. There, we discussed a
lot of content, and later, the group just stayed.
After that, we kept adding more people who are
trans or gender non-conforming, and it's now a
permanent group, and funnily, more active than
the larger queer collective.”- Salaah
The collective is open to trans* people on other
Members of the collective oer support and
intervene when trans* persons outside the campus
face a physical or mental crisis.
Through the collective, trans* people not aliated
with the institution often visit the otherwise
safeguarded and gate-kept campus.
Making science institutions porous
“We managed to burn the Manusmriti on
campus on Christmas last year, which was
wonderful since our campus is the bastion
of Brahmanism.” - Salaah
The Trans* Collective was at the helm of
raising concerns about a dysfunctional
SC/ST Cell in the campus.
Living Smile Vidya: Transphobia is a type of
Gee Semmalar: It is only in Dalit colonies that
trans people are able to rent houses; the fact that
there is more visibility of Hijras in Dalit
colonies has to a certain extent normalized their
presence, though they are ridiculed on an
everyday basis.
Grace Banu: We have to ght not just this
patriarchal society, but also within our own
communities – we have to ght within the
queer movement, we have to ght with civil
societies, and we have to ght within the
feminist movement.
Possibilities of political solidarities
Link to download:les/ugd/d1
A manifesto for queer/ing science
(in progress)
Acknowledging science as intricately linked to power that can be both
emancipatory, and violent
Acknowledging diversity and variation, and to challenge strict
categorization of the world into cis- and hetero-normative categories
Challenging inherent assumptions of objectivity and reductionism in
Acknowledging and challenging the reproduction of cis- and
heteronormativity in science classrooms
Building solidarities between dierent marginalized groups
acknowledging both shared and diverse experiences of marginalization
and to build a collective challenge to the cis- and heteronormative
scientic enterprise
bell hooks: queer as being about the self
that is at odds with everything around it
and has to invent and create and nd a
place to speak and to thrive and to live
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